By Will Desautelle
As the Great Lakes team from Bowling Green, Kentucky ran out onto the field at Howard J. Lamade Stadium for its opening round game of the 2019 Little League Baseball® World Series, a loud ovation came from a large section of supporters all wearing “MG11” shirts.
Starting pitcher Grayson Newman then stepped behind the rubber and traced the number 11 through the dirt with his finger before starting the biggest game of his Little League® career.
After each of his four strikeouts on Friday afternoon, Newman dragged his finger through the dirt to trace the number 11 again in honor of one of his teammates, Mason Goodnight, who played for Bowling Green East Little League until he died at the age of 10 from a rare form of bacterial meningitis on April 6, 2017.
“He was one of my best friends and we were really close,” Grayson said. “It’s important to honor him when we play.”
Mason’s No. 11 jersey has been hung up in the team’s dugout for every game since Mason died, and all the team’s supporters have worn MG11 shirts during the team’s journey to the World Series.
“Seeing the MG11 everywhere makes our family so happy,” said Jef Goodnight, Mason’s father and one of the team’s coaches. “It’s what makes our Bowling Green community so incredible. If you go on social media, MG11 is everywhere. It’s just absolutely amazing.”
“The Goodnight family has endured something that no parent wants to do,” manager Rick Kelley said. “The fact that we are able to tell his story and tell it on a nationwide basis is heartwarming.”
Mason died just six days before Bowling Green’s opening game in 2017. After Mason’s funeral on April 10, Mr. Goodnight threw out the first pitch at the league’s opening ceremony two days later. Coaching this team the last three years without Mason has been difficult for him every day, but he knew that continuing to coach was the right thing to do for Mason.
“The day I threw out the first pitch, my wife and I later sat down and she said, ‘You need to finish this’ and I said ‘Yeah, I think I do,’” Mr. Goodnight said. “For me it’s therapy. Being around these kids gets me through it.”
Playing for Mason has brought the players even closer together, but the team has always been a close group. Many of the players all live within the same neighborhood and many times after games, the Little Leaguers® would all gather back outside right after a game and start playing again in one of their backyards.
“They’re ringing each other’s doorbells at 8 o’clock in the morning and then they’re staying out until 9 o’clock at night,” Mr. Goodnight said. “This whole group is really close and it has brought them together. I hate that they had to deal with something this difficult at such a young age, but they are just way mature beyond their years.”
The team also visits Mason’s grave together every year to reflect and share their favorite Mason stories with one another. Outside of occasional team visits, Mr. Goodnight visits Mason’s grave almost every day, and Mason’s teammates regularly will visit his grave individually, often leaving home run balls that they hit during games beside his grave.
Bowling Green has used No. 11 as a motivator whenever they have faced adversity on their way to Williamsport. Mr. Goodnight has frequently preached to the team to not look at the situation as if they are playing for Mason but look at it as if they are playing with Mason because he is still here with them every day on this journey.
“Mason and I talked many times about how this were a dream and he wanted to come here,” Mr. Goodnight said. “He didn’t get to come here, but he’s made it happen for these kids, he made it happen for me. Now this is the pinnacle. Whatever happens here will just be added where he’s helped us. We’re just going to sit back and enjoy the ride for Mason.”