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Managing the Mindset: “True Little League Team” Responds to the Right Attitude

Dalton Carriker, left, and his Warner Robins (Ga.) American Little League teammates looked to Manager Mickey Lay, right, and coach Mike Smith for guidance and advice on and off the baseball field on their way to the 2007 Little League Baseball World Series Championship.

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Sept. 6, 2007) – Mickey Lay managed Warner Robins (Ga.) American Little League (WRALL) to the 2007 Little League Baseball World Series championship by meshing his own tenacity with tempered toughness and an appreciation for his players’ individual talents to forge a positive attitude on and off the field.

Mr. Lay and fellow WRALL coach Mike Smith nurtured their players by knowing when to push and when to praise.

“None of these kids have been forced to play,” Mr. Lay said. “This is a true Little League team, not a travel ball team that came into the league. These are local league players who were elected by the players who played against them. Every player, coach and manager in our league gets a vote and that is why winning the Little League World Series is so sweet. This is natural, not manufactured.”

In posting a 13-0 record on the road to the Southeast Region championship and berth in the World Series, Mr. Lay described his team as, “naturally loose.”

The eventual World Series champs were credited with being a good-hitting team and sound on defense, which Mr. Lay said, “sounds boring, but is the truth.” He also said the team’s tendency was to stay calm in most game situations.

Being loose and playing hard equaled confidence when the game was on the line. Dalton Carriker’s opposite-field solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat Tokyo, Japan’s Kitasuna Little League, 3-2, for the World Series title was anything but boring, and about as tense a Little League moment as one could imagine.

“We went into every game the same as game one … to have fun,” Mr. Lay said. “If we hit the ball, run the bases and make outs, everything will work out in our favor.”

In World Series pool play, following a 9-4 win over the Northwest Region champions from Lake Oswego, Ore., WRALL had to regroup after losing, 10-2, to Hamilton, Ohio’s West Side Little League, the Great Lakes Region champions.

“These are not selfish kids,” Mr. Lay said. “They are self-sufficient, well-grounded and take care of each other. As a team, we hold our heads high, play hard, and believe good things will happen.”

In the team’s third game, an 8-1 win over the New England Region champions from Walpole, Mass., assured advancement out of pool play. In the single-elimination round, WRALL defeated the West Region winners from Chandler, Ariz., 16-6, and Lubbock (Texas) Western Little League, the Southwest Region champions, 5-2, en route to the United States championship.

Even as the games became more important, the team remained focused, which Mr. Lay admitted was a struggle at times.

“No matter what happened, I was going to be there for them because they had been there for each other this summer,” Mr. Lay said. “I have always told them to keep their heads high and keep moving forward.”

That simple message endeared the manager to his players and formed a bond that all Little League volunteers can aspire to.

After winning the World Series, Carriker, Keaton Allen, Zane Conlon and Kendall Scott all said they look upon Mr. Lay as a father figure because of his patience, willingness to keep Little League fun and support them in the good and bad times.

“He is a really good coach,” Carriker said. “He tells you what you’re doing wrong and makes you fix it, but he will be there for you if you ask.”

“Mickey is pretty much like a dad to me,” Allen said. “Give him time and he’ll do whatever he can for you. He is a very good coach and knows what he’s talking about.”

The mutual respect between friends was not lost on this team’s coach-player relationships. In fact, Mr. Lay said that sharing the variety of emotions he and the players experienced leading up to, and through the championship game, made winning even more special.

“I am honored to be associated with these young men,” Mr. Lay said. “There are only so many times that people come into your life, touch you emotionally and get into your heart.”

Members of the Warner Robins (Ga.) American Little League celebrate winning the 2007 Little League Baseball World Series Championship and also console players from the Toyko (Japan) Kitasuna Little League. The team from Warner Robins, Ga., won the World Series Championship game, 3-2, on a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.