Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012
Last Saturday, the Little League team from Kearney, Neb., made history. This team, consisting of 13 players and three coaches, had just become the first team from their home state to ever make it to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport. The team from Kearney was able to earn their World Series berth, introducing them on an international stage, with a 10-4 win over Canyon Lake from Rapid City, S.D., at the Midwest Regional Tournament.
"Sometimes it's hard having 13 players, but in the end it's better to give 13 kids the experience than 11. The boys are thrilled and who wouldn't be?" said Midwest manager Brad Wegner, father of short stop Jared Wegner.
The journey has been one of excitement, drive, and let's just says it: nerves. But not all of the emotions come from the boys. The parents who sit just off the sideline, right above their son's dugout screaming and cheering game after game certainly have some of their own.
"I'd say we're more nervous than the boys are," said Peggy Staab, whose son Cole is the Midwest's catcher.
But each parent does it all, even with a stomach full of empathetic butterflies, they sit, cheer, decorate their cars with window chalk and do the obligatory wave with enthusiasm each time it circles the stadium.
Nerves is certainly something you would think may be getting these boys all riled up about, considering their first game against the Southeast this past Thursday, the stadium housed nearly a third of the population of their entire hometown. But these Little Leaguers are making it look easy, as they dance to joke around to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" pregame on Thursday night.
"Only a couple of the boys get really nervous, they're all pretty good at staying relaxed. You just have to remind them it's still baseball—you go out, catch, and throw the ball same as always," said Wegner.
"You never know what will happen, whether or not these boys go off to play in high school, college, or become Major League stars. They need to live it up now."-- Midwest Manager Brad Wegner
Each team member is simply having a good time at the games and enjoying every perk that comes with that like having the opportunity to meet kids from all over the world, something that would normally cost them thousands of dollars.
"I honestly thought we'd have to kick them out the door," said Wegner, "but they love going out, they think it's really cool."
Not only are these boys treated like celebrities in South Williamsport, but back home their fame is growing.
"They're getting Facebook messages and phone call from people they don't even know, they're comparing Kearney Little League games to Nebraska football games. It's unreal the bars are completely filled with people, and not just in Kearney but all over the state," said Tammy Ray, mother of right fielder Josh Ray. The team has even received well wishes from their regional finals rivals from Canyon Lake of South Dakota.
"The support we're getting is overwhelming," said Peggy Staab. "Not only monetary to help with the boys' travel expenses but just the well wishes, I never would have thought this all possible."
So is this all worth it; the fame, the travel, the constant stream of endless practices?
"We have not been home since August 2nd, but each boy just makes it all worth it," said Ruby Quintana, mother of second baseman Blake Quintana, who has been a huge player offensively for the team.
And each parent, player, and coach alike would do it all again.
"Just ask us to come back, and we will," said Wegner. "One coach has said it's all probably downhill from here. You never know what will happen, whether or not these boys go off to play in high school, college, or become major league stars. They need to live it up now."
In Saturday's game against New England while the Midwest team came ready to play, not even the best of practicing can prepare you for some things.
"We started out exactly how I wanted, we've lived on the fact that we haven't walked many guys, we don't give up runs," said Wegner.
Yet, the team fell short early on in the game, walking one too many players.
"(Pitcher Matt) Masker had a great game. He just got a few walks too early that can hurt anybody. We live and die by ground balls and pop flies," Wegner said.
The boys definitely had a disappointing game Saturday after the 12-0 loss against New England, but these Little Leaguers have big game and big hearts and are certainly not done here at the Little League World Series.
"We're just going to go back to the dorms tonight and talk about it, ask them what they're feeling, and simply let them get everything off of their chest," Wegner said. "That way we can have this one last game with one of the international teams."
The Midwest will take on the Europe champion Ramstein, Germany on Monday at noon at Lamade Stadium in the first consolation game of the Little League World Series.
"I just keep telling them, probably more than they like me saying, enjoy the moment," Wegner said.