SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The words came like a high, tight fastball.
You almost wanted to duck as they flowed from Columbus Northern power pitcher Jacob Pate’s mouth.
Pate was talking about what it was going to take to win the Little League World Series.
“You have got to play with a little more swagger,” Pate said.
If you take the definition out of the dictionary, the meaning gets lost in translation.
Swagger, used as a noun, means “ostentatious display of arrogance and conceit.”
That definition doesn’t come close to describing the Northern All-stars who are playing in Williamsport, Pa.
Spend a week around them, and I dare you to find “arrogance and conceit.”
It isn’t here.
What you will find in this team, that is one win away from playing for the United States championship, is confidence.
Some will confuse confidence with arrogance.
That’s a mistake.
There is no doubt Pate was talking about confidence.
Pate oozes confidence.
And so do the rest of the Northern players preparing to play Hawaii at 7 tonight in the Pool A final. A win, and Northern is playing this weekend as one of the four best Little League teams in the world. A loss to Hawaii, and the two teams have to play again Friday to see who gets into the U.S. title game the next day.
This Northern team has earned that confidence.
The kind of confidence you get from beating this same Hawaii team 6-2 Saturday.
The kind of confidence you get from winning 18 all-star games in a row without a loss.
The kind of confidence you get from showing up in Williamsport wearing the uniforms of a league that won this tournament in 2006.
The kind of confidence you get from having a manager, Randy Morris, who already has won this thing once — and if you don’t believe it, walk through the Little League Museum and watch the 2006 highlights.
The kind of confidence you get knowing your best pitchers are capable of shutting down the best hitters here.
The kind of confidence you get knowing at least two of the teams you sent packing in the Southeastern Regional — Florida and North Carolina — would be capable of doing well in the Little League World Series.
Everywhere this team looks, it gets more confident.
Call it swagger if you wish.
When the Northern players walk as a group through the Little League complex, people notice. It is not because they walk with a swagger.
They walk with a confidence that they belong here.
And it starts at the top with Morris.
“We talk about playing like that,” Morris said.
And that swagger came from watching another Little League program a few miles down the road from Columbus.
“That’s something Warner Robins has had for years,” Morris said.
In the past five years, Northern and Warner Robins have won this tournament and been here two times each.
If that is swagger, somebody needs to figure out how to bottle and sell it.
Morris has made it clear he wants his team to play with the confidence that approaches a swagger, and he used Warner Robins as the example.
“I want our kids to pick up on that. I want the attitude of ‘You are going to have to beat me,’” Morris said. “I want them to refuse to lose.”
So far, they have done just that.
But Pate also knows there is a fine line between swagger and cocky.
And he is not ready to cross it.
“If a team gets cocky, they’re going to get beat,” Pate said.
This team is not cocky.
But if they are beating you, it looks like swagger.
In reality, it’s just confidence.
Lots of confidence.