Little League Values Resonate in Soldier's Life and Death
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
MAITLAND, Fla., Aug. 23, 2005 Not many people have heard of the sleepy town of Maitland. But the central Florida borough where I live has been in the news recently because 11 boys from here have advanced to the Little League World Series, in Williamsport, Pa.
Watching these boys from my town play, I was reminded of Little League legend Wilbert Davis.
In 1975, Davis was a 12-year-old pitcher and outfielder for a Tampa, Fla., Little League team. Davis, one of eight children, grew up poor and in "the projects," raised by his widowed mother. His youth league produced baseball greats Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield.
Like the Maitland boys, Davis's team advanced to the Little League World Series. His team played in the championship game that year, an objective now in the sights of the Maitland team.
Davis had to win 13 games in a row to get his team to the World Series. In the process, his mother said at a 2003 ceremony inducting Davis into the Little League Hall of Excellence, he threw his arm out. The team finished second.
Years later Davis joined the Army, and in April 2003 he was a staff sergeant with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division when he was killed in Iraq after his Humvee went into a canal near Baghdad.
Little League Baseball said Davis was "eager to make a contribution to the effort" in Iraq. In published reports, his family said he was dedicated to the military and to his mission in Iraq. He had two passions in his life: Little League and the Army.
As professional sports are in upheaval, it is nice to watch the game being played not for money, but for fun; not for contract posturing, but simply for the love of the game. It is sportsmanship purity: competition and goodwill.
On the Little League fields here in central Florida, dugout conversations tend to focus on video game strategies and post-game pizza. Losses hurt, but coaches make them less painful. Kudos are given for games well played and even for efforts that fail to be fruitful. Games are won and lost, but all the boys and girls ultimately win as they learn humility, fairness and resiliency, all building blocks that will some day make these good boys and girls become good men and women.
What you don't see on television are the lessons these coaches impart on the kids, how their words dry a player's crying eyes after a critical loss or how to explain to 12-year-olds that they need to be pulled from the game "for the good of the team" -- a hard lesson in selflessness.
Many of these kids will take the bonds forged on these playing fields and the lessons of teamwork with them as they participate in the game of life. Their coaches are like noncommissioned officers, the backbone our military, carefully molding children into adults.
Remarkably, the coaches pull it off. The kids are humble, good sports, and supportive of each other, despite international media attention and praise from fans. They do what they have to for each other --hitting sacrifice fly balls and bunts, trying to play the best game they can to go home with a trophy.
As I watch the Maitland kids, many of whom are my neighbors, I can't help but think about Sgt. 1st Class Davis (he was posthumously promoted). I think about the fortitude he had at 12 that empowered him to win 13 consecutive games, and I wonder what other sacrifices he made as a boy out on the baseball diamond.
Davis's selfless service embodies what servicemembers continue to do today for the cause of liberty throughout the world. Davis went from the ball field to the battlefield, and although he outgrew his Little League uniform and traded it for an Army camouflaged uniform, he took his Little League values with him to Iraq.
In Iraq, Davis made "the ultimate sacrifice." It was the last thing he would do for a team.
And even though Davis played in the same Little League as Sheffield and Gooden, and although he is part of noteworthy group by being inducted into the Hall of Excellence with the likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan -- to me, he is in a league all his own.
And since I wear the same team uniform that Davis wore when he died, I find it fitting that he be remembered today, two years to the day after he was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence.
It's the least one teammate can do for another.