Phenix City All-Stars' run to the Little League World Series remained a hot topic five years later

Ledger-Enquirer sports writerAugust 16, 2009 

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Aug. 15, 2004.

The burgundy baseball jersey, neatly pressed, hangs in one of the spare closets in Walter and Paula Monk's home.

The belt and the socks their son, Brandon, wore during the Phenix City National's run to the Little League World Series five years ago also hang in the closet.

The uniform represents so many sentiments, Paula wouldn't think of putting a price tag on it.

"It's special," Paula said. "It's not every day you get to go to the Little League World Series. That's a big, big deal."

Kyle Tidwell said he ran across his all-star jersey several days ago and couldn't believe how small it was.

At Bryan Woodall's home, each time he runs across his old uniform, it conjures up memories of the team's glorious run to the United States Championship five years ago. The team fell one game shy of winning the world championship.

Tony Rasmus, the team's manager, has several albums full of pictures. Friends recorded every televised game, and he occasionally watches the videos.

Twelve youngsters, several who had never been out of the state, were treated as first-class royalty in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series. They were the guests of George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, at a major league baseball game.

And they made television appearances on "Good Morning America" and "Fox News."

In the book "That Scrawny Bunch from Alabama," Jan Acuff, the mother of Alex Acuff, said, "It was one wonderful summer."

Life lessons

Paula Monk said as much fun as that summer was, it taught all of the boys valuable lessons. She said they learned to put aside personal greed, cheer for their teammates and enjoy the game.

"Those boys fed off each other," she said. "None of them were jealous of the other. One game, somebody was the hero, while in the next game, the hero was somebody different."

The Phenix City National team captured the heart of America by the way they carried themselves. The media loved the players' Southern accents.

Woodall said when he goes out of town and somebody finds out he's from Phenix City, they always ask, "Did you play on that baseball team?"

Colby Rasmus, one of the team's top pitchers, and Monk recently committed to play at Auburn. When Auburn coach Tom Slater told him he'd pitch in front of 5,000 fans at Plainsmen Park, Colby didn't seem too concerned.

"I've pitched in front of 45,000 fans before," he said.

Kevin Martin, whose son Zack was a pitcher and infielder on the team, said he couldn't help but to be proud of the positive effects it had on the team.

"I think they saw that coming from a small town with a medium-range income that if they worked hard, they could go up there and play with the teams like Toms River," Kevin Martin said. "I can tell you many times that Zack hit soft toss into an old shrimp net, while teams like Toms River had a $10,000 batting cage."

Reliving the memories

With the exception of Jeff Smith, who gave up baseball for football, the former teammates are divided among six schools --- Glenwood, Russell County, Central-Phenix City, Brookstone, Columbus and LaGrange.

Woodall, who plays both football and baseball at Central, enjoys this time of the year. When the Little League World Series begins later this week, he won't miss a game if he can help it.

"It's fun going back and watching it, seeing what we went through," Woodall said. "When you're 12 or 13, you think you're going to do better things, but looking back at it now, not too many people get to do the things we did."

Last Monday, the Ledger-Enquirer got all the players together for a group photo, the first time the team has been together since the World Series concluded. The only difference was the players were a little bigger and a few years older.

With the exception of William Gaston, who has already graduated and will enroll at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, the rest are entering their senior seasons. The run to the World Series was still the hottest topic of conversation.

"I think it has finally sunk in now," Tony Rasmus said. "If you told me I could go back and change this or that, I wouldn't change a thing. And I think the kids are all the better for having gone through that experience."

No amount of money will suffice for the lessons these kids learned. As one parent put it, the jerseys, photos and newspaper clippings are indeed priceless.

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