By Jim Sarkisian
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Holy Cross graduate and former Crusader baseball player Tim Rogers (Class of 1991) got the chance to manage his hometown little league team this summer at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Not only did the team qualify as one of the eight teams from the United States, but they made it to the U.S. Championship game representing New England.
Rogers also was able to share the experience with his son Drew, who was the starting centerfielder for the Westport, Conn. team. The squad played teams from all over the United States and even a team from Mexico during the tournament.
Recently, Rogers talked with GoHolyCross.com to discuss what the experience was like coaching not only a team in the Little League World Series, but also his son.
GoHolyCross.com: First of all, could you explain what it was like to coach a team in the Little League World Series?
Tim Rogers: It was a truly an amazing experience. Playing against the best teams in the world, I can't imagine a better baseball experience. From a social perspective, the boys hung out with and built friendships with boys from different parts of the U.S. and different countries. This was a once in a lifetime experience for all involved, the players, coaches and parents. I feel so fortunate to have shared this with my son Drew.
GoHolyCross.com: The team started off with two big wins over Tennessee and Washington. Could you talk about what were the keys to winning those games?
Rogers: These were two very different games. The Tennessee game we won with our core strengths that we relied on all summer. Good pitching, defense and timely hitting. It was amazing to beat a South East team. After this game, the boys really believed they could beat anyone there. The Washington game was the first of many nail biters. Our bats really came to play in this game and we jumped out to a 9-2 lead. But Washington is a really good hitting team and they never gave up. Our bats went cold and they climbed back in it. We held on for dear life for a 9-7 win.
GoHolyCross.com: The team lost a tough extra-innings game to California, but shook it off and played what was arguably the most exciting game of the World Series against Washington in an elimination game. Could you talk about how the team not only bounced back from the loss to California, but also overcame a seven-run deficit to defeat Washington in extra-innings?
Rogers: The thing that impressed me most about these boys is just how resilient they were. The California game was so tough and we had so many opportunities to win, but let them all go by the way side. It was a non-elimination game and we knew we could get to the championship game by beating Washington the next game, so the boys really didn't get down and immediately turned their focus to that game. When we got down big against Washington, the boys really showed us all just how amazing they are. The fact that we came back from so many runs was impressive and everyone contributed to that, but, the poise, heart and character that the boys showed at this time, by facing elimination on the grandest of youth baseball stages, is what I will remember most. They were so cool under pressure, never gave up and always, always continued to cheer for each other and support each other I think this 30 minute stretch of time is what these boys and this team will be most remembered for.
GoHolyCross.com: The team's run came to an end in the United States championship game, with a loss to California. Did you ever think that at the beginning of the summer that it would be possible to not only make it to Williamsport, but then to the U.S. Final?
Rogers: Short answer is "no." We knew we had a good team. They competed well their 10-year-old year and their 11-year-old tournaments. We play in a brutal district in Connecticut with the Fairfield and Trumbull teams, so just winning our local district is an accomplishment. So many things have to go right along the way and so many pitching decisions and critical moments where pitching/defense or a big at bat will determine the outcome of the game. Just about all of those have to go right for you to get as far as we did. At every point along the way the boys continued to execute and come through in those "big moments." When we won the New England Regional and qualified for the LLWS, the boys were so happy. It was a dream come true! Then, when we beat Tennessee from the powerhouse South East conference and started to think, "wait a minute, maybe we can win this thing."
GoHolyCross.com: Talk about the Consolation Game versus Mexico. What was it like for your players to play a team from another country and spoke a different language?
Rogers: A lot of fun. Of course we wanted to win, but this was more of a relaxed game for both teams. Our top three pitchers were unavailable, so we knew we were going to give up some runs. Many people had picked Mexico to win the whole thing, so the boys were really excited to play against them. We were so happy to get an international game in. We had watched Mexico play throughout and clearly Japan and them were the two best international teams, but being on the same field with a team from a different country was so fun for the boys. Most of them have taken some Spanish in school so, of course, they were all trying to interpret what was being said. The boys from Mexico were so sweet and I think they enjoyed playing us as well.
GoHolyCross.com: Did you use anything you learned during your four years at Holy Cross and being a part of the baseball team in helping coach the team this summer?
Rogers: It's hard to translate a college baseball experience to little league. The game is so different and the boys are so young, but I think the general organizational and communication skills you learn in college help a lot with this type of experience.
GoHolyCross.com: What was the best part of the entire summer (anywhere from the first game to the last)?
Rogers: Probably when we won the New England championship game to qualify for the LLWS. For the boys to have actually achieved their dream of going to the LLWS after years of hard work was so special to them and their families. That post game celebration on the field and after was filled with so much joy and satisfaction. It was unbelievable.
GoHolyCross.com: From a parent's perspective, what was it like to watch your son, Drew, play in the Little League World Series?
Rogers: Exciting and incredibly stressful at the same time. I didn't have the luxury of focusing too much on Drew as I was consumed with coaching all of the boys, but I always found a quiet moment to talk with him at night as a Dad and make sure he was getting everything out of the experience he deserved, which he did. He was so calm and cool the whole time, I could not be more proud of him, both in terms of his baseball contributions, but also the way he carried himself on and off the field. Words cannot describe how special it was to share an experience like that with Drew.
GoHolyCross.com: The strategy in the Little League game is much more involved now with pitch counts and substitutions. Did you have any sleepless nights trying to figure out how to put the best team on the field to win?
Rogers: The pitch count dynamic is by far the most complicated aspect to managing through little league tournaments. As I look back at the 10-15 most critical decisions we made over the whole summer, I would bet they all involved who was going to pitch, in what sequence and for how many pitches. The intent of protecting young arms is certainly positive and all coaches are in the same boat, so it's just something you have to deal with and manage through There are so many critical games and moments in games that ultimately decide a team's success or failure in a journey like this, so pitch count rules make it tough, but again all of the teams face the same dilemma.
GoHolyCross.com: And lastly, what is one memory that you will always have from the World Series?
Rogers: What amazed me is just how much our team and our experience impacted the Westport Community. Williamsport is only 4-5 hours from Westport, but the crowds we had from town were amazing and the support both in Williamsport and once we returned home was awe-inspiring. The fact that so many people got behind these boys is a testament to the way they played and carried themselves and I will remember that long after the win/loss record.
Drew Rogers, Tim's son