Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 11, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: Little League builds lasting memories

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — When it’s all said and done, Little League baseball is about one thing and it isn’t victories.

It’s about memories.

Just ask David Greene, the manager of the Ashland American 11-12 year-old All-Stars. He has ties to the league that run deep, including being a member of one of the four Ashland American state championship teams.

Greene was on the 1986 champions. The last one came in 1990 and the first two were in 1963 and 1964.

You better believe those teams have some special baseball memories.

The ’90 team had a pitcher named Brandon Webb on the roster. The little 11-year-old threw an unhittable curveball back in those days.

But maybe the grandest champion of them all came in 1963. That team will be celebrating a golden anniversary this summer. It was 50 years ago that the ’63 Ashland American team came within one win of making it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Talk about memories!

North Houston, Tex., defeated Ashland American 6-3 in the Southern Regional final in Norfolk, Va. The Texas team broke a 3-3 tie with three runs in the fifth inning. The Ashland team managed only one hit, a bouncing single over first base by Rick Dixon, the losing pitcher but one of Ashland American’s true heroes. They would have never made it that far without him.

Dixon, shortstop Joe Mantle, right fielder Mike Griffith, first baseman Tim Huff, third baseman Johnny Mullins, left fielder David McPeek, center fielder Charlie Jackson, third baseman Mike Tackett and second baseman Robert Ison were the starters that day in Norfolk.

The manager of the team was the legendary Jim Stewart, whose memory will be honored when the CP-1 Reunion takes place on Aug. 24 in Central Park.

Griffith blanked Sarasota, Fla., 2-0 in the Southern Regional semifinals to put Ashland in the championship. McPeek and Dixon belted solo home runs.

Ashland had won the state championship in Lexington as Dixon celebrated his 13th birthday with a three-hitter in a 3-1 win over Buechel. Dixon fanned 15 and also hit a two-run homer.

Back in those days, the tournament was single elimination.

On the same day, Ashland’s Babe Ruth defeated St. Matthews 8-2 behind Bill Lynch’s 2-hitter in Bowling Green. He also hit two doubles and a single. Lynch threw a one-hitter in the opening game of the tournament.

Ashland American actually hosted the sub-regional tournament on 22nd Street and eventually defeated St. Albans, W.Va., 4-2 for the title with Dixon again playing a starring role. He struck out 10 and belted a towering home run over the left field fence to put Ashland ahead for good.

Plenty of memories were made.

And the following year they repeated as state champions but lost in the sub-regional round in Norfolk again.

It took 22 years before Ashland American had another state champion and Greene played a role in that one along with Scott Crawford, Rob Francis and Stacy Franz (the girl on the hot corner), among others. Crawford’s father, Larry, was the manager. They went on to play in the Southern Regional in Florida and actually defeated Texas before being eliminated.

“It is the relationships you build,” Greene said. “So many of us are still living in Ashland and we still talk about it. It was so far from our line of thinking when we first started. You don’t dream that. And then, as you get a little bit closer, it starts to happen.”

The ’86 Ashland American All-Stars lost their first game in postseason but bounced back strong and eventually were state champions. They played the state tournament on their home field, about in the spot where Texas Roadhouse sits today.

“The place was packed and everybody at the park was cheering for us,” he said. “We don’t have to go anywhere to get the firetruck escort (after the game). They just came right over. Those are the memories I took away.”

Greene said it all meant so much to him in his growth as a person and an athlete and especially a baseball player.

“I fell in love with baseball because of Little League,’’ he said. “You could probably say that about every American boy that still loves baseball today.

“When you have a little bit of success it whets your appetite. Ashland has always loved its Little League teams. To come back and coach now is like putting the cherry on top.”

Greene is not only coaching the team but also his son Zach is one of the All-Stars. It’s many of the same players who as 10-year-olds came close to winning the state title two years ago.

“The car rides to and from practices are great,” Greene said. “It’s time spent together and, as dads, it lets you build those memories. That’s what I’ll take from the Little League coaching experience.”

Greene’s Ashland American Area 2 champions play Morehead in South Shore tonight at 5 and, if they win that one, would play for the right to make it to the state tournament on Friday. Rain suspended play on Wednesday after Ashland shot out to a 4-0 lead in the first.

Ashland American fell to Russell-Flatwoods in its opening game of the postseason and Morehead came into Wednesday’s play undefeated.

“After that loss to Russell the kids set a goal of getting to the state tournament,” Greene said. “It’s helped them narrow their focus and have a little more sense of urgency. Every game could potentially keep them from reaching the goal.”

Ashland American has been a power team with five different players hitting home runs. Brice Carley has two home runs and Evan Dixon has belted three home runs apiece and 11 RBI apiece. Carley is also hitting a team-leading .550 with Dixon close behind at .538.

Caleb Keelin and Zach Greene are both at .467 while Cameron Marushi and Preston Ledford have hit five doubles apiece. Marushi also has a home run as does Richie Hall and Luke Alley. Pitchers Robbie Francis (2-0, 2.12), Scott Busch (2-0, 0.75) and Keelin (1-1) have been solid and sometimes spectacular.

Are these the Ashland Little League heroes will be remembering 50 years from now? Who knows? But they are making memories no matter how many more wins they collect.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what Little League is supposed to be about anyway?

“Little League’s got it right,” Greene said. “Not a thing wrong with Little League. It’s a great organization.”

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.