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A True Underdog Story
Okay, we have all seen the movies and read the books. We know what will happen in the end before we get to the end. An underdog team that nobody believes in will do something special and win some sort of championship or title. But that can never happen right? I mean come on; the worst can’t possibly beat the best, can they? Almost anyone will agree with that. But not the people of the small south-central Texas town of Littleton, for they know a true underdog story. It happened back in 2006. The story goes a little something like this.
The Littleton Lumberjacks little league baseball team was the worst in south-central Texas. They had had six straight losing seasons, and hadn’t made it to the state tournament in eleven years. Now it was not much more than the parents who came out to Abe’s Hardware Field on Saturdays and Sundays to support them. The Lumberjacks also lost one of their best players, John Salazar, after he moved away to Austin before the season started. He was their best outfielder and the pitcher with the most wins last year. He was also the team’s home run leader.
Jerry Hancock, a former minor league baseball player decided to help coach the team after moving to Littleton to manage the local grocery store. His assistant coach was a dad of one of the new players on the team this year. Jerry had heard about the little league team, and wanted to get close to the game again, so he applied. He got the position easily because no one else in town wanted to be a part of the losing team that the Lumberjacks were. But Jerry was determined to turn the team around.
So far the season hadn’t turned out as good as Jerry Hancock thought it would. The Lumberjacks were 0-3 after 3 bad losses to San Antonio teams. They weren’t in good position to win this time, either. They were at Abe’s Hardware Field, losing to the San Marcos Hit Dogs, 9-3 in the 5th inning. The Lumberjacks shortstop, Brian Anderson, tripled with the bases loaded in the 2nd to score 3 runs, but the Hit Dogs had turned on the bats and hadn’t stopped yet. Jason Dawkins, the Jacks pitcher, could not get out of the top of the 5th. The bases were loaded, 2 outs, the Hit Dogs best hitter batting. Jason threw him a fastball, but the hitter was right on it. He lined right at John Mathers, the Jacks’ second baseman, who was their best player by far. He caught it, and the Lumberjacks were out of the inning. They still lost the game, and were 0-4. The few fans that showed up to the game threw food and drinks onto the field in disgust. Jerry could tell that they had already declared this season over.
After the game, Jerry gave Brian Anderson and Derek Leeman, the team’s catcher, rides home after the game. As they turned onto Brian’s street, they saw a moving man beside one of the houses. A kid was standing in the front yard, holding a baseball bat and a glove. None of them had ever seen him before. Jerry dropped the boys off and returned home.
After baseball practice the Tuesday after the loss to the Hit Dogs, Brian was riding his bike home. He saw the new kid, who was in one of his classes at Littleton Intermediate School, at the school park with his dad. His dad was throwing him pitches, and he was hitting them. His name was James Jordan, a kid who had just moved to Littleton from San Antonio. Brian stopped and watched him hit for awhile. He was an excellent hitter, blasting some balls almost to the school building, which had to have been at least a good 310 feet, Brian thought. He rode home and went to bed, thinking about those monster shots from the new kid, whose name Brian did not yet know. John Mathers can’t even hit the ball THAT far, Brian thought.
The next day at school Brian came up to James Jordan at lunch. “Hey, I saw you here last night smacking those balls with your dad” he said. “Anyway, my name is Brian, what’s yours?” “My name is James” James replied. “I just moved here from San Antonio.” “Oh, cool” said Brian. “Did you ever play baseball there?” “Yeah, I played third base and outfield for the Rockets.”
“The Rockets?!” exclaimed Brian. The Rockets were San Antonio’s best little league team, and had placed fourth at the state tournament last year in Austin. “Yeah, I wanted to finish out my season there before we moved here, but my dad was transferred to the VA hospital here effective immediately.” replied James. “I’m sorry,” said Brian. “I play shortstop for the Littleton Lumberjacks. Did you ever consider playing baseball here?” Brian asked. “I didn’t really want to face my old team so I didn’t join the team here.” James said. “Well after seeing you last night, I think you should join, we could really use a player like you” Brian replied. “Well, I love baseball but I don’t think I want to play on a different team this year” stated James. “Okay, well I’ll see you later then,” said Brian. “See you,” James said.
The next Friday at baseball practice the team was warming up when Brian saw a kid walking up to the field with a bat bag, holding a glove under his arm and carrying cleats in his left hand. A grown man was with him. It was James. James and his dad walked up to Jerry, and they shook hands. They talked for awhile, and then Jerry gave James’ dad some paperwork, and James put his cleats and glove on and walked over to Brian. “Hey dude,” said James. “You decided to join?” asked Brian. “Yeah, I missed baseball too much. And this is also my last year of little league ball, I’m not going to waste it. My dad talked to the coach, and its okay for me to join, he just has to do some registration paperwork.” James replied. “Awesome,” Brian said, excitedly. Now we might have a chance to get somewhere this year.”
Jason Dawkins threw some pitches to James, who crushed two over the fence in left field. He also hit some one-hoppers to the wall. Thank you lord, Jerry Hancock thought, this exactly what we needed.
That Saturday the Lumberjacks traveled to New Braunfels to take on the New Braunfels Eagles. It would be the first game for James as a Lumberjack. He had a great practice on Friday and was excited to play baseball again. James would play third base and hit fourth in the lineup.
James had 3 at-bats in the game. He led off the 2nd inning with a triple to right field. He scored that inning and was the first run of the game for the Lumberjacks. He came up again in the 4th and singled to drive in a run. Then in the 6th he blasted a solo home run to left field. James was 3 for 3 in the game, but the Lumberjacks still lost, 10-5. They dropped to 0-5 on the season.
The team returned home after that and played the San Angelo Flames at Abe’s. James was 2-4 in the game with a home run to center field. In the bottom of the 6th, Derek Leeman was up to bat with a chance to win. The Jacks were down 6-5, runners on 2nd and 3rd, two outs. He knocked a single that scored a run, and the outfielder could not field the ball, allowing John Mathers to score the winning run. The Lumberjacks had won their first game of the season.
The first win gave the team some inspiration, and it was just what the team needed. Brian’s, Derek’s, and John’s bats all started heating up, and James stayed extremely hot at the plate, hitting bullet after bullet. Jason Dawkins started pitching better. The entire team started working together and winning games. But it was mostly because of the play of James Jordan.
When school let out in May, the Lumberjacks’ record was
7-6, the team was on a 6 game winning streak. Halfway through June, they traveled to San Antonio for the first time of the year to face the Central San Antonio Alamos. Littleton had not beaten a San Antonio team in three seasons, but things were looking up for them now. In the bottom of the 6th inning James hit a walk-off 2-run home run to right field to win 8-7. That was the real team booster for the season. Now the Jacks knew they could beat the big city teams and compete, their record standing at 12-9.
After word spread around Littleton that the Lumberjacks had beaten a San Antonio team, fans started showing up for their home games at Abe’s Hardware Field. They provided extra support for the Jacks, as they finished the month of June with a second place finish at the San Angelo invitational tournament.
July was the last full month of baseball for the Lumberjacks, as they were scheduled to play 12 games that month, the busiest month all season. It started with a doubleheader against North San Antonio. The Lumber jacks lost the first game but in the second game rallied to win in 8 innings on a walk-off grand slam from James. The rest of the month was a great month for the Lumberjacks, the team going 9-3 the entire month. Their record was standing at 19-14, the Jacks in third place in the south-central district, behind Central San Antonio and East San Antonio. August was the last month of little league baseball. There were only 7 regular season games left, followed by the district championship and then the state tournament. If a team was good enough, they could even go to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The Lumberjacks took a trip to San Antonio the 1st of August to play East San Antonio and Central San Antonio, just the teams they needed to beat. They beat Central San Antonio
5-3 because the Alamos were missing two of their best players due to vacation. The game against the East San Antonio Rockets was the first game between them all season, so it was James’ first time playing against his former team. East San Antonio was in first place in the district, just three games ahead of Littleton. In the 5th inning James got the first hit of the game for the Lumberjacks, breaking the Rockets pitcher’s bid for a no-hitter. The Rockets still won 5-0 and put another game between them and the Jacks. But the Jacks still would play them two more times in the season, the final two games of the regular season.
The Lumberjacks won their next three games, putting them just one game back of East San Antonio, who came to Littleton for a Friday night and Saturday afternoon game. In the first game of the doubleheader the Rockets took an early 2-0 lead after Allen Swanson, who was pitching tonight for the Lumberjacks, gave up a 2-run home run. But in the 4th inning, Brian doubled to bring home James Jordan and John Mathers, tying the game. In the top of the sixth, Jason Dawkins dropped an easy fly ball in center field, allowing a run to score for East San Antonio. If East San Antonio won this game, they would clinch the district and have home field advantage for the district championship game. It would also drop Littleton back to third place in the district, because Central San Antonio had already won earlier that day, putting the Alamos in second place. Only the top 2 teams play for the district championship. In the bottom of the sixth, John Mathers and Derek Lee struck out to begin the inning. There were 2 outs, Allen Swanson up to bat. Allen hit the ball right at the left fielder, but the left fielder couldn’t hold on to the ball. Allen reached first base on the play. Now James was up to bat. James swung and missed twice, putting the Lumberjacks one strike away from elimination. The pitch was a fastball, and James knew exactly what to do wit it. He got everything on the swing, launching the ball high into the air and far, and way over the center field wall. The Lumberjacks had won! But now they had to beat the Rockets again on Saturday to take first in the district.
On Saturday morning James woke up nice and early, nervous yet excited for the day’s game against East San Antonio. He wanted to beat is former team badly, to show them that small towns could compete too. If the Lumberjacks won they would take 1st in the district and have home field advantage for the district championship, against either East San Antonio or Central San Antonio. If they won the district they would be in the state tournament in Austin.
Jason Dawkins, the ace for the Lumberjacks, was going to pitch that game for the Jacks. In the 2nd inning Jason gave up a grand slam home run, making it 4-0 Rockets. He gave up 2 more runs in the 3rd, and another in the 4th. It was 7-0 Rocket in the bottom of the fourth when Allen Swanson singled, Brian Anderson doubled, and James came up and blasted a 3-run home run to center field, 7-3 Rockets. In the bottom of the sixth it was 8-6 Rockets, and James was batting, no one on base, and one out. James doubled, leading the rally for the Lumberjacks. Jason Dawkins then singled to right field, allowing James to get to third base. Derek was up, and struck out on three pitches. John Mathers stepped into the batter’s box with two on, and two out, 8-6 Rockets. He struck out swinging on 3 pitches; game over. The East San Antonio Rockets clinched first in the district and had home field advantage for the district championship, but it wasn’t over yet for the Lumberjacks. Central San Antonio lost to the fifth place San Angelo Flames in San Angelo. That meant that Littleton took second in the district and would be playing East San Antonio in San Antonio for the district championship.
The district championship was to be played in San Antonio on the following Saturday night. The Rockets had a team meeting before the game. “Alright, listen up boys.” The Rockets coach said. “The only player on the Lumberjacks who can actually play is James Jordan. You may remember him from last year, he is a great player. He can pitch, hit, run, and field, and when he is up to bat I want the best everybody has. Keep him off base! No mistakes! If you want to go to the state tournament then we must win tonight! James Jordan is the leader on that team, they don’t stand a chance without him. If he is not a factor in this game, we will walk away victorious!”
The game started with a James home run in the top of the first. The game was going Littleton’s way until the 3rd inning. James hit the ball into the gap in left center, but when he slid into second feet first he didn’t get up. He grabbed at his ankle and was writhing with pain. He sprained his ankle. Jerry helped him off the field and gave him some ice. He was out for the rest of the game.
“Well guys, I’m done for the night, but don’t stop fighting!” James said, trying to rally the Jacks. “We can still beat these guys, even if I’m not out there. They are probably celebrating victory right now. They are underestimating you guys’ ability! We may have the same players as we did before I arrived and we started winning, but we aren’t the same team. We are better than these guys! I know it! We have the lead, finish them off!”
Jason pitched very well, only giving up 1 run, until the top of the sixth. The Rockets scored 3 runs that inning, making it 4-1, Rockets leading. In the bottom of the sixth, Allen Swanson walked, Jason Dawkins struck out, Derek Leeman singled, John Mathers singled, and
Levi Evans, the first baseman, struck out. It was the bottom of the sixth, 2 outs, bases loaded, 4-1 Rockets. Brian Anderson came up to bat. This was the district championship right here. Brian swung and missed twice, making the count 0-2.
Brian closed his eyes and concentrated. He focused all his energy to his bat. James was standing in the dugout now, watching, but being silent. He believed Brian could win it with this swing. Brian opened his eyes and the pitch came. Brian put everything he had into his swing. He heard the ping, and felt it in his hands. He had hit it hard, high and deep. But thr right fielder of the Rockets was running towards the fence like he had a chance at it. Brian did not start running the bases. He just stood a couple of feet up the first base line from the batter’s box and watched the ball. The right fielder got to the fence and made a last huge leap for the ball, but came up just less than an inch short of catching the ball and robbing the home run. Brian had just won not only the game, but the district championship and a spot in the state tournament. Brian snapped back into reality when Derek Leeman touched home and started yelling at Brian to run. Brian slowly jogged around the bases, cheering the whole time. His teammates gathered around him at home plate, and stampeded him when he touched home. Brian walked over to the dugout where James met him. James was silent. Then they both burst out laughing, then walked out of the dugout in a great mood. The Littleton Lumberjacks had had a winning season for the first time in six years, captured their first district championship in eleven years, and were headed to the state tournament.