Little League; Big Dreams

Published 10:01 am Saturday, August 19, 2017

WILLIAMSPORT, PA – Little League Baseball players from throughout the world are gathered here in this scenic north-central Pennsylvania city nestled on the banks of the Susquehanna River.

That pilgrimage has occurred every August since the Little League World Series was first played in Williamsport in 1947.

The mid-summer tradition continues 70 years later and for 2017 includes a connection to Northampton County.

Wagner Ward Grubb, a native of Conway, is shown with her son, Drew, in Williamsport, PA where he will compete in the Little League World Series as part of the Southeast Region team, a squad comprised of players from Greenville. Contributed Photo

When the Southeast Region squad took the field last night (Friday) in their World Series opener against the All-Star team representing the Midwest Region, 12-year-old Drew Fields was the starting centerfielder. He is the son of Wagner Ward Grubb, a native of Conway, and the grandson of Taylor Ward and great grandson of Eloise Ward, both longtime residents of Conway.

Fields and his teammates are the All-Star squad from North State Little League in Greenville, where Grubb currently resides. Greenville North State made the “dream” trip to Williamsport by initially winning the North Carolina Little League championship and followed that up by going undefeated and capturing the Southeast Regional title during a tournament that ended 10 days ago in Warner Robbins, GA.

“I think I’m okay in speaking for all the players and parents here from Greenville by saying we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the whole wide world,” said Grubb, speaking by phone from Williamsport early Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the Southeast squad took the field in their World Series opener.

“This is a dream come true; this is the place that Little League teams from around the world want to be in August….in Williamsport,” Grubb continued. “For our boys, we’re so thankful and so grateful for this opportunity, and we express our thanks and gratitude for all those who made donations to help us make this trip here.”

For Grubb and the other families associated with Greenville North State, 2017 has been a blur. It started with the regular season at Elm Street Park in Greenville. After that season ends, All-Star teams are chosen in the different age divisions. That leads to the state Little League regionals, from where the winners qualify for the state tournament. The state winner then qualifies for the Southeast Regional and that victor advances to the Little League World Series.

“Our boys won that (Southeast Regional) on Aug. 9 and we packed up and headed home to Greenville the next day,” Grubb said. “Once we got home we washed all the uniforms and other clothing items and got started on raising funds for the trip to Williamsport. The players and coaches left last Saturday by bus for that trip and most of the parents came up on Wednesday and Thursday.”

Grubb noted that it is hard to tell who is the most excited to be at this level of competition….the players or the parents.

“We have a very vocal group of supporters here in Williamsport,” Grubb said. “I’m very much like my dad (Taylor Ward, who also made the trip to Williamsport), I try to focus on being encouraging and not negative when it comes to seeing how Drew performs during a game. However, Drew will often remind me that I’m too loud during a game.”

While the goal of each of the 16 teams (eight in the United States bracket and eight in the International bracket) involved in this worldwide event is to win the title, Grubb said there’s more to this tournament than just a shiny trophy.

“The atmosphere here is unbelievable,” she stressed. “There are young children you see on the street and at the ballpark waiting to get autographs of the players…it’s almost like being in a Major League Baseball city and ballpark. You can feel baseball history here in Williamsport.

“And our boys have heard from some Major League players since they’ve been here….telling them they never had the chance to play in the Little League World Series and would give anything to step back in time and experience that feeling,” Grubb added.

Another part of the experience is the opportunity for these young players to meet their baseball peers from all over the world. Grubb said the Greenville squad was housed in the same dorm with the team representing Mexico and they have struck up a mutual friendship and respect for each other.

“They’re building memories that will last a lifetime,” Grubb said. “To see that as a parent puts a smile on my face.”

She also mentioned the importance of the completion, without an emphasis on just winning.

“Sure, who wouldn’t like live the rest of their life as a world champion or the parent of a world champion, but there was a statement made during the opening ceremony here on Thursday that accurately summed up this event,” Grubb shared. “It was stated that all the players need to simply enjoy the experience and when you take into consideration that, worldwide, there were 17,000 Little League games involving a grand total of 2.5 million players this year, then the 16 teams, with 13 players each, gathered here right now in Williamsport are already winners.”

For Grubb, the thrill of seeing her son compete on a worldwide stage….and on TV (ESPN is broadcasting the games through the Aug. 27 championship)….takes her back to her time as a young athlete. She exceled in the sports of basketball and tennis at both Ridgecroft School and Northeast Academy, graduating in 1995 from the latter. She also played softball at Northeast.

“I really think Drew got his hitting skills from me, but then again I learned from the best and that was coach Troy Smith (the former head softball coach at Northeast who ran a very successful program that captured several state titles),” Grubb said. “Drew is also very quick in the outfield and reads the ball well off the bat. And his dad (Ryan Fields) as the head coach of the team is a big plus. They’re both having the time of their lives.”

Joining in on that fun this weekend (and hopefully next week) in Williamsport is granddad Taylor Ward, and grandmother Becky Ward, who now resides in Little Washington.

And taking it all in back home in Conway will be great grandmother Eloise Ward.

“She (Eloise) proudly proclaimed earlier that she was the one that started all this (success for Drew). Earlier this year back at home (in Conway), she grabbed a bat and had Drew to pitch to her,” Grubb concluded.

Should the Southeast Region squad win its Friday night opener, the team will advance to a 2 p.m. game on Sunday. And they will still be in the hunt, even with a Friday loss. If that occurs, Southeast will play at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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