October 24, 2014
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The biggest moment of Pierce Jones’ life came when the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars played their opening game of the Little League World Series against Lynwood Pacific at Lamade Stadium.
The moment wasn’t bigger than Jones, though.
Jackie Robinson West won by the mercy rule, trouncing the Lynwood, Washington, team 12-2 after five innings Thursday courtesy of Jones, who went 4-for-4 with three home runs and a triple. Jones said he had homered twice in a game but never three times.
Jackie Robinson West will play the winner of the Nevada-South Dakota game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“After the first at-bat and after the first pitch, I settled down a little bit more,” Jones said. “I was a little nervous before the game, but after you step in the box, it settles down a little bit.”
Jones, who started in right field, has been begging manager Darold Butler to pitch. Butler said he’ll consider pitching Jones on Sunday.
But the day was more about the unique experience of playing in front of an announced crowd of 8,341 in a stadium setting as picturesque as any in youth sports. The Pennsylvania woods surround the stadium.
The Chicago contingent was small in numbers but as loud as any section in the stadium.
Butler said that his players are aware of the outpouring of support they’re receiving from the Chicago area. Jones said that he had to shut his phone off immediately after the game because he was getting so many alerts.
But being in South Williamsport has helped reduce the pressure of having a major city hanging on every at-bat of this team of 13 youngsters. Butler said it’s like “living in a bubble.”
And that was the key for Jackie Robinson West.
“We let kids be kids, it’s not a boot camp,” Butler said. “I wish they would go to bed before me one day. We’re just going to continue to keep the attitude relaxed and continue to have fun with it.”
Jones wasn’t the only player from the South Side team who had a banner day. Starting pitcher Joshua Houston threw four innings without giving up an earned run. Lynwood’s two runs in the first were the result of an error.
Shortstop Ed Howard hit a two-run homer for Jackie Robinson West, which scored in every inning. The team scored twice in the first, giving Houston confidence.
Butler and his players said that in the biggest of situations, they like hitting first. Butler will sometimes even choose to hit first when he wins the coin toss before a game.
“If we’re away and we’re getting more runs in the first inning,” Houston said, “it gives the pitcher the confidence of winning.”
Any Little League manager couldn’t have drawn it up more perfectly for his team.
Jackie Robinson West’s players didn’t fight the moment of being on national television, they enjoyed it. Many of the parents in the crowd called it “the best vacation for any kid.”
For Jones, it was the best day to have his best game.
“We had confidence,” Jones said. “We’ve been ready to play since the first day we got here. We love to play baseball. We love to get on the field and show what we can do. That’s what got us through to get the win today.”