Formed in June at the end of the regular Lebanon Youth Baseball season, the league’s American all-star team went on a blistering rampage against all comers. Scoring double-digit runs against all comers.
No one in Tennessee could touch them as they won the state Dixie Youth O-Zone championship.
If you don’t know what O-Zone means, it has nothing to do with that stuff which helps create the August haze but is depleting to the point the planet is heating up (at least, according to the scientists). It’s the level of baseball between traditional Little League and full-grown Babe Ruth baseball. While the Little League field has 60 feet between the bases and Babe Ruth (and all older leagues) 90, O-Zone splits the difference with 75-foot basepaths. It also allows runners to lead off bases as its rules are closer aligned with Babe Ruth than Little League. It makes for a better adjustment between the two styles.
Anyhoo, dressed like the Tennessee Vols, Lebanon didn’t play like UT has for the past dozen years. The Americans bludgeoned Arkansas in the first game of the World Series and I was beginning to think if there wasn’t a pitcher who could shut them down, these guys might be bringing a national championship home. But they finally ran into a South Carolina hurler who could cool their bats.
Undaunted, the Americans came back and showed they could win without a dozen or more runs, prevailing in closer contests over Virginia and Texas before taking an early lead on South Carolina on Thursday. Unfortunately, Lebanon scored no more and the Gamecocks (not their real name, I’m sure, but hey, it’s almost time for SEC football), rallied for a 4-3 win to end the Tennessee run.
But along the way, Lebanon matched the deepest advancement in a national tournament (if a league which covers 11 Southeastern states from Texas to Virginia can be called national) and then surpassed it.
The Americans also picked up a lot of fans in their hometown. Posting stories online and on Facebook and retweeting results on Twitter, I was blown away with the response and the love these kids were getting from back home. The Twitter app on my phone was blowing up after I posted their Wednesday night win over Texas.
(Excuse me while I check Facebook for another congratulatory Facebook message.)
Like social media or hate it, it’s a great way to get feedback on how the public responds to stories. In my mind, it’s much better than a formal poll.
I saw on Twitter a short time ago these kids, who come from practically every middle school which feeds Lebanon High as well as Wilson Central-bound Southside, rushed back to play football for their schools Thursday night. And that was without any practice this week.
The Nashville media have fawned over the Goodlettsville Little League in recent years, and deservedly so. Goodlettsville was in Dixie Youth until a decade or so ago and often blocked Lebanon’s path.
But Lebanon Dixie Youth - starting with Bob Pack, who moved the old Optimist League out of Little League in the early 1990s, to the Rotary Club, which took control of the league in 2001, to Lebanon Youth Baseball, which put all of the city’s baseball leagues from 12-years-old and younger under its umbrella a few years ago - has gotten better each year and has four state championships in its trophy case.
Kevin Gaines coached two of the state champs to final four finishes in the World Series. Nick Hays took this year’s version to a third-place finish. The league continues to follow the path set by Cumberland baseball and Friendship Christian athletics in which they continued to hammer away, get a little better, advance a bit further each year. It took a couple of decades, but both eventually reached the promised land, the summit, with national and state championships. And then they did it again and again.
I don’t know how long it will take, but one gets the sense Lebanon will bring a national youth championship to the Cedar City someday.
Hopefully, it won’t take decades. But if it does, we’ll enjoy the climb.
Meantime, it’s the end of a local baseball season which began with Cumberland back in frigid February.
And a welcome to football season.