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Manager from 2012 U.S. Champion Team Says LLB® World Series Brought Community Closer
By Darian Somers
What happens after a team advances all the way to the Little League Baseball® World Series championship game then quietly goes home? Ask Joey Hale, manager of the 2012 US Champions from Goodlettsville, Tenn., and he will say the community comes together.
Hale -- who is back in South Williamsport this week as a spectator -- and his team brought together not only Goodlettsville Baseball Little League, but the entire city after their run at the 2012 Little League Baseball World Series championship.
"It put us on the map," said Hale. "The mayor of Goodlettsville said it did more for the city than anything they could have done as far as publicity and bringing business into the town."
Hale isn't coaching a team in this year's World Series, but he decided to come back when team hosts Dennis Loner and Lynn Datres gave Hale an open invitation to return any time he wanted. Loner and Datres are back as volunteer team hosts for the Mexico Region this year.
"It's pretty awesome, a lot of good memories," said Hale. "I've seen a lot of people from last year, friends I've made. It's pretty nostalgic because you sit out here and look at the field. You look at the plays we made and the big hits we had. All of that, it's been a good experience."
In 2012, Hale's Southeast Region team beat the West, 24-16, in the U.S. Championship game. They fell to Japan in the World Championship, but the reception they got in their hometown was still worthy of world champions.
Hale said when they got home, television stations followed the plane landing, the bus ride back, and the parade with thousands of people leading up to city hall in Goodlettsville.
"It was like a nonstop tour, visiting place after place after place, getting recognized,” said Hale. “It seems like it never ended. It went all the way to this baseball season. It was just nonstop and that's good. It was fun."
At the Goodlettsville Baseball Little League, the reception hasn't ended either. Hale said that the registration numbers at the younger ages for Tee Ball grew. He said he's also seen a rise in attendance for games. Hale noted that elderly fans who don't have relatives or kids playing Little League come to watch games where they didn’t before.
During the District tournament, which played out at this year's Southeast representative's South Nashville Little League, Hale said the championship contest between the two leagues felt like a home game for the kids from Goodlettsville.
While Hale didn't coach the league's 12-year-old team, he did coach the 11 year olds and feels he could have another chance at returning to South Williamsport in 2014.
Along with the success in his league, Hale has also noticed the community impact that the game of baseball has had on Goodlettsville.
"To me, we are just coaching a game," said Hale. "You don't realize what kind of an impact this game has on other people until you actually get back home, and you see people. They come up to you and start talking, saying 'Man, I was watching you. Every game, we don't even watch baseball, but we watched you guys every day.' That was my wow moment, seeing how it impacted everyone else.
So what's it like to return to a community that was brought together by a set of games hundreds of miles away? For Hale, it's just like it is for the Little Leaguers® at this year's tournament.
"It's just a great time. It's going to be sad when Sunday gets here and I've got to go home. It's just a great place to come watch a game."