In honor of Taylor North winning the Little League World Series, Al Muskovitz looks back at his own baseball and adult softball career.
Huge sports news! Michigan beats an Ohio team! Enjoy that headline now because that’s the last time you’ll see that sports headline for the remainder of the year. Ooh, admittedly with the college football season now upon us, that was a really cheap shot from this Spartan alum at Wolverine faithful.
Yes, Michigan did defeat Ohio, but it was on the famed Little League baseball diamond in Williamsport, Pa. On Sunday, Aug. 29, Taylor North, our state’s representative in the 2021 Little League World Series, defeated Hamilton Ohio’s West Side squad 5-2, to capture our state’s first title since Hamtramck captured the crown in 1959. And, boy, was our current depressing news cycle in need of a healthy dose of a feel-good story.
I mean, seriously folks, can you possibly imagine a sports team that actually hasn’t been capable of winning a championship in 62 years? Ooh, admittedly with the pro football season now upon us, that was a really cheap shot at our Detroit Lions whose current championship drought stands at 64 years.
COVID restrictions forced most of Taylor’s 16-game tournament schedule to be played without family members in attendance. Still, over a 23-day stretch away from home, these courageous kids defeated champions from seven different states.
It takes me back (cue theme music from the film Field of Dreams) to the days when my old 1960s Camp Tanuga softball teams traveled up north in the back of a stake truck to play teams from Camp Walden, Maplehurst and Sea Gull. Win or lose, we always stopped at a Dairy Queen on the way back.
My Little League career wasn’t as notable. The two things I remember most were, one, panicking each time I stepped into the batter’s box praying I wouldn’t be nailed by some 12-year-old’s wildly inaccurate fastball. And two, our manager taking us to an A&W Root Beer stand after any game that we turned a double play in. Who knew ice cream would play such a dominant role in my baseball career?
I did go on to enjoy some “success” as an adult softball player. I was the winning pitcher for Drakeshire Bowling Lanes in the 1978 Southfield Parks & Rec Men’s Class B Softball Championship. After getting the last out, our catcher, Jeffery, charged the mound and picked me up like Bill Freehan famously picked up Mickey Lolich after clinching the ’68 Series against the Cardinals. Too bad smart phones didn’t exist to capture how goofy we looked.
Yes, baseball is in my blood. That’s why I cherish the Little League World Series tournament. (Cue theme music from the film The Natural.) Each year, it allows us the throwback thrill of enjoying our national pastime in its purest and most innocent form. Teams competing without the benefit of sign stealing, foreign substances being applied to pitched balls or testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Although, to be completely transparent, one Taylor player, 12-year-old Gavin Ulin, stunned the audience during an in-depth ESPN interview when he admitted to profiting off of “grass.”
“I cut lawns in my spare time,” Gavin said. “I got 10 lawns a week. … I like that cash.”
He said he makes $35-40 per lawn. That’s a street value of up to $400 a week from his “grass” business. Oh, there is one thing he probably won’t be cutting any time soon — his now nationally recognized mullet haircut that hangs below his cap. This kid was “Taylor-made” for a great story.
I’m writing this prior to the big championship parade and celebration that was scheduled for last Thursday in Taylor’s Heritage Park. Hopefully, there, the players made up for the most notable error they made during their championship run when the squad attempted, but misfired, in dumping a cooler full of Gatorade over the head of their beloved manager Rick Thorning after the last out secured their title.
It will be exciting to check back in a few years to see if a Taylor Little Leaguer has made it to the big leagues. It has happened.
Trenton-born Steve Avery, 51, dawned a Taylor Little League uniform back in the 1980s and went on to become an All-Star pitcher for the Atlanta Braves in the early 1990s and appeared in four World Series.
Avery even had a short pitching stint in Detroit. But to this year’s Taylor North squad, Avery’s biggest stop in baseball no doubt was when he visited the team’s practice prior to their Great Lakes Regional Game.
Three cheers to Taylor North on being Little League World Champions! I only wish I could’ve been in the celebratory locker room to watch the players douse themselves with juice boxes.