Editor's note: This column was originally published on April 30, 2009.
Colby Rasmus is all grown up now. He certainly looks the part of big league star in the making. He stands 6-feet-2 and weighs a solid 195 pounds. He has that sweet but explosive left-handed swing. He may one day be a perennial All-Star and might have his own wall space in Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Let’s hope so. Nobody’s more deserving of success.
But to us, Rasmus will always be that skinny kid who stood on the pitcher’s mound in St. Petersburg, Fla., bearing the weight of not only Phenix City but the entire state of Alabama on his thin shoulders. It was a moment that played out like fiction, but it was all so genuine.
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Alabama was playing North Carolina in the Little League South Region championship game. The winner would go to the Little League World Series. Colby had just given up a two-run homer, cutting his lead to a single run.
A national television audience watched as Colby waited on the mound for his coach and dad, Tony, to pay him a visit. Tony thought about taking the ball from him. Instead, instinct — and maybe a bit of paternal pride — prompted him to ask Colby a question.
“Do you want to finish it?” Tony asked.
“I want to do what’s best for the team,” he answered softly.
“I want to do what’s best for the team, too,” Tony said. “But what I want to know is can you get this next guy out?”
Colby looked over his shoulder toward the scoreboard. The moment played out in slow motion. He turned back and looked his father square in the eye and said with soft-spoken confidence, “Yes, sir.”
Later, when I was writing a book about the team, a coach from another part of the country e-mailed me.
“At that point, I about lost it,” the coach wrote. “I haven’t heard a kid say ‘sir’ in years. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. But at that point, I just fell in love with that whole team.”
So did much of America. Tony ended up pulling Colby and putting in Bryan Woodall to finish the game. But from that point, the gang from Phenix City, Ala., captured the hearts of fans across the nation. For the next two weeks, they were the team seemingly everybody, at least those without a vested interest, rooted for. Kyle Tidwell’s walk-off grand slam. The thrashing of Tom’s River, aka “The Beast From The East.”
They were 12 kids who were impossible not to love.
It’s been 10 years. We’ve watched them grow up. Some played in high school; some took up other interests.
Colby’s brother Cory is still trying to work his way back from an arm injury. Woodall is pitching in the Midwest League. Brandon Monk reclaimed his college eligibility after a stint in the minor leagues. Eric Skinner is the starting shortstop for Columbus State. Alex Acuff is a cheerleader at CSU. Jeff Smith is in the Coast Guard.
Some are beginning their professional careers. Won’t be long before some of the guys will be back on the Little League field coaching their kids.
But to us, no matter how much they grow and mature, they will be those boys who won our hearts in the summer of ’99.
ContactGuerry Clegg at firstname.lastname@example.org