The road to Williamsport started way before July. For most of these boys, their time together began in 2011 when they were just eight years old. The commitment to baseball and to each other went beyond Little League All-Star seasons, extending to travel team as well. Over the past five years, they’ve lined up next to each other in almost two hundred games—losing only twenty-three. And in an age where sport specialization is encouraged, all of these boys are multi-sport athletes who made time to excel at baseball along with everything else they do. Simply put, Coach Walter said it best, “Everything we did when no one was watching helped them succeed when everyone was watching.”
After cruising through the District and Sectional Tournaments held in Northern Lebanon, we advanced to the State Tournament in Newville. Our goal for the All-Star season—players, coaches and parents—was to win a state championship. In a 17-0 victory over Back Mountain Little League on a Saturday afternoon, the boys from Red Land did just that. Immediately following the win, there was a packet of information in our hands explaining the details of the next round of play. In just one week, we were headed to Bristol, Connecticut to compete for the Mid-Atlantic Regional crown and battle with the likes of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC.
Before we started preparing for this next challenge, we took time to celebrate the victory. All of the players, coaches, and their families gathered together later that Saturday evening. As the reality of what lie before us sunk in, we started making lists of everything we needed to do in just a week’s time—and ordering State Champion t-shirts was established as the first to-do. As we discussed the design, my husband (and team manager) Tom said, “We need a catch phrase. We need a hashtag!” Many ideas were thrown around, but the boys and coaches quickly agreed #WhyNotUs was the best fit. Tom used this as the theme moving forward; his thought was that if some team had to represent the Mid-Atlantic Region in Williamsport, why shouldn’t it be us? Why couldn’t that team be Red Land? Needless to say, the State Champion t-shirt and our hashtag went viral. Over the course of the next month, more than 16,000 red t-shirts were sold—they could be seen everywhere!
In what seemed like no time at all, the players and coaches were driven to Bristol on a chartered bus—generously donated by a family in honor of their state championship. After arriving, they settled into dorm life for the next week. For me, staying away from Kaden and Tom was easily the toughest part of this incredible experience. There were only a few homesickness bouts from the players, as the boys handled themselves remarkably well—and of course, their burgeoning celebrity status helped this transition. From ESPN interviews to filming commercials to touring the ESPN studios, they enjoyed every minute. Amidst the fun, there were back-to-back days off where the players were able to spend time with their families.
In another blink of an eye, we were playing New Jersey in the Mid-Atlantic championship on a Sunday afternoon. Once again, Red Land prevailed with relative ease producing a 12-0 win over Jackson Township Little League. As soon as the game ended, the boys were whisked away by security and the parents were ushered into a meeting room. Before we could move onto Williamsport or celebrate, we had to sign media clearances and a host of other forms in preparation for the trip. After an hour or so, we were finally reunited with the players and able to congratulate them on their incredible accomplishment.
The following morning, the boys were once again on a chartered bus; but this time they were headed to Williamsport. Playing in the Little League World Series is every boy’s dream—and it never failed to live up to that expectation. Upon arrival, the players settled into another dorm room, received an ID badge, got fitted for new Mid-Atlantic uniforms, and were given the opportunity to pick out top-line gear. It was clear they were representing so much more than our district, section or state. They were the 2015 Mid-Atlantic team, and they were on the verge of capturing the hearts of America.
Thanks to exceptional media coverage and the thousands and thousands of fans who attended, so many people were able to live this last stop of the journey with us. To this day, I am blown away by the support we received from friends both near and far. Our once-in-a-lifetime experience was even more special because of how many people enjoyed it with us. We were united and inspired by thirteen boys and their coaches, and everyone wanted to be a part of this team.
In 2011, if you had asked us what this group of eight-year-olds was capable of accomplishing, I don’t think we could have imagined this. I doubt we could have envisioned our sons inspiring an entire community before graduating middle school. I don’t think we could have foreseen the tremendous outpouring of support, the media coverage, the semi-celebrity status. The journey has been a whirlwind, the stuff of dreams, both unpredictable and unbelievable. But the most extraordinary part? The story they created lives on. It will be a very long time before people in Red Land stop asking ‘Why Not Us?’