(Oct. 10, 2014) Two championship Berlin Little League teams are getting a hero’s welcome on Friday, Oct. 10.
Berlin will honor the Intermediate All Stars, the United States runner-up in this year’s Little League World Series in Livermore, Calif., and the 9-10 All Star, who won a state championship and played in the regional tournament in Cranston, R.I.
Cameron McDonough managed the intermediate team and his son, Tristan, excelled, batting .444 in five Little League World Series games and leading the squad in both home runs and RBIs. On the mound, McDonough pitched to a 3.75 ERA, fanning 18 batters in 9 1/3 innings while walking just three.
Tristan said his dad has been his coach “ever since he can remember,” starting with a tee ball team before he was even 4-years old, but his great-grandmother “mom-mom” Grace Hickman was the real catalyst for his love affair with baseball.
“We owe a lot to his great-grandmother, who just recently passed away while we were up in Long Island for the regional tournament this year,” Cameron said. “She was his first batting coach.”
His primary daycare provider, Hickman played ball in the backyard with Tristan when he was just a year old.
“He was just a little baby,” Cameron said. “She would go out there with him and he would just want to stay out there for hours and hours, her just putting balls on tees and him just hitting them.
“I think he was about a year and a half old when [we] started to be able to play catch,” Cameron continued. “He really did start showing signs of being very apt at it, so we, of course, tried to nurture that and get him going with it, but I definitely have to thank his great-grandmother for working with him when he was really, really young.”
Tristan said his great-grandmother was constantly with him during the team’s run through the regional tournament and the World Series.
“She was on my mind every at bat,” he said. “Every home run I hit, it felt like she pushed something over. There was one, especially, that I didn’t get as well, but somehow it just went over.”
In 2013, the all-star team lost a heartbreaking game on national television, ending their run in the regional tournament. Tristan said chemistry and a few new additions made the difference this year.
“We all thought we were ready the year before. We just couldn’t pull it out,” he said. “This year we had a new addition Kevon (Wharton) and Colby (Figgs) and Hayden (Cosman) and Steven (Bise). They were a big help – they played big roles and they really helped us out and came up big in every situation.”
The Intermediate All Stars were undefeated in state and regional play and went 3-2 in the World Series. For a team of 13- and 14-year-olds, the all stars seemed remarkably undaunted. A relief pitcher would come in and give up a grand slam, then immediately settle in and strike out the side. Key hits at clutch moments seemed almost inevitable.
“Team chemistry was amazing,” Tristan said. “Most of these guys have been playing together since we were in ‘pitching machine’ (a beginner’s league) pretty much. Of course, we care if we go four-for-four, but we’re more concerned with the team’s outcome.”
“It’s one of those things where these boys are young men now and they’ve gotten to the point where they remember all the lessons they’ve been taught along the way,” Cameron said. “This year was a beautiful thing. My assistant coaches and I just kind of got out of their way. I think that was the biggest difference from last year to this year. We tried to … let them play ball and enjoy themselves.
Cameron said the team never focused on individual achievements.
“They care about winning,” he said. “They know how to win because they’ve been in those situations so many times. The disappointment from the year prior definitely pushed these guys to work even harder to get better and to make sure they were able to focus through those tough moments.”
After losing the U.S. Championship game by a single run, the team didn’t sulk but joined a pickup game of whiffle ball with players from several different countries.
“The Curacao team was having a whiffle ball game and there was a couple Korean kids out there, so we just went out there and had some fun,” Tristan said. “It was our last night, so we were going to enjoy it. It was cool, because some of the kids were trying to teach us some words in other languages and how to communicate with them.”
Both McDonoughs expressed gratitude for the recognition they received from their hometown.
“They’re the reason we’re doing this – we didn’t do this just for ourselves,” Tristan said.
“I think the word that we both search every time our town does something for us like this – it’s very, very humbling for us,” Cameron said. “It’s wonderful to know how much support we have in our local community and how great they’ve been to us and to all these boys. We can’t say enough how much the town of Berlin, the Worcester County Commissioners and all of our local businesses have been so awesome to us over the years, and I know their continued support of Berlin Little League will be much appreciated in the future.”
The parade begins at 6 p.m. at the Berlin Firehouse and runs to the Atlantic Hotel. All 12 Berlin all-star teams, which include more than 150 players, will be present.