Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From Little League World Series To College Baseball

With the Little League World Series in full swing in Williamsport, Pa, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some players who graduated from the LLWS to play in college baseball and even beyond.

Any list of players who've played at the LLWS has to start at the top. There are just two, count 'em two, players who have played in the Little League World Series, College World Series and MLB's World Series: Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg. It's amazing that with all the LLWS, CWS and Fall Classics that have been played only two have managed to achieve the career trifecta.

Varitek played in Williamsnport in 1984 for the Florida Springs team that fell to Seoul, South Korea in the championship game. Ten years later he and former Red Sox teammate, Nomar Garciaparra, were on the Georgia Tech team that lost to Oklahoma in the 1994 College World Series title game. Varitek won the big prize though as the captain of the Boston teams that won the World Series in 2004 & 2007. Varitek was also a member of the 1992 USA Olympic baseball team in Barcelona, Spain.

Vosberg is probably less known than Varitek, but his path is filled with titles as well. He first played for the Tucson, Az squad that fell to Taiwan in the 1973 LLWS title game, but seven years later he starred for his hometown Arizona Wildcats that won the 1980 College World Series. Then, in 1997 Vosburg helped the Florida Marlins win it all in their first World Series appearance.

There have been plenty of players to go from the Little League World Series, including the likes of Gary Sheffield and Derek Bell, who were Tampa, Fl teammates in 1980, and even hockey stars like Chris Drury and Pierre Turgeon. However, none of them achieved "legendary" status, like Lloyd McClendon.

McClendon played at Valparaiso University in Northwestern Indiana from 1978-1980, and went on to play in the big leagues from 1987-1994, but before that he was known as "Legendary Lloyd" at the Little League World Series. McClendon earned the moniker when he belted five consecutive home runs for his Gary, In Little League team in Williamsport in 1971.

Former Rutgers standouts Jeff Frazier and Casey Gaynor helped the Toms River, NJ squad win the 1998 LLWS Championship prior to their time in the college ranks. They helped the Scarlet Knights win the 2007 Big East Championship, while Frazier was named conference player of the year. He smacked 14 home runs this season for the AA Carolina Mudcats. Gaynor's father, Mike Gaynor, managed the '98 championship team as well as the 1995 Toms River LLWS team that included another future Scarlet Knight, Colin Gaynor.

We have also come across an interesting list of players who cut their teeth in Williamsport prior to entering the collegiate ranks. At least three current college players suited-up at the 2001 Little League World Series that featured possibly the most infamous Little League player ever-Bronx, NY pitcher Danny Almonte, who was later discovered to be too old for the team he was on.

Oregon State's Adalberto Santos was a teammate of Almonte on that Bronx team. Santos was a junior college All-American at New Mexico JC when he led the nation with a .520 batting average. He hit .320 and led the Beavers with 15 stolen bases this past season to help OSU to an NCAA Regional berth.

Stuart Tapley was the winning pitcher vs. Santos' Bronx team at Williamsport in the US Championship game. He helped Florida State to the 2008 College World Series when he hit .383 with 8 home runs en-route to earning Freshman All-American honors. Tapley batted .316 with 13 HR and 60 RBIs this past season.

Current Illinois sophomore to be, Willie Argo, faced that Bronx team as well in the LLWS. As a member of the Davenport, Ia team, Argo hit a home run vs. the Bronx that bounced off the Lamade Stadium statue in center field. He carried his home run mogo to college as well. Argo homered in his first three college at-bats in Baton Rouge against eventual national champion, LSU. He finished his freshman season with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs to go with a .355 batting average and 1.072 OPS.

Some other current college players who roamed the bases at the Little League World Series include:

Walker Kelly, who as a freshman helped TCU to the program's first Super Regional appearance as a relief pitcher. (2002 LLWS)

South Carolina native, Robb Scott, is an incoming freshman at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Bucknell is located just 30 miles from Williamsport. (2002 LLWS)

UNC Willimington freshman, Tom Timoney, played for the Dhahran, Saudi Arabian All-Stars at the LLWS in both 2002 & 2003. His brother, Matt Timoney, holds the distinction of the being the only player to participate in the LLWS three times when he did it in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Their father, Tom Timoney, was their coach.

There are three players at the University of Rhode Island with Little League World Series experience. Tom Coulumbe, Chris Pickering and Kyle Borden will all be juniors at URI this season. They helped the Lincoln, RI team get to Williamsport in 2001. Coulumbe and Pickering helped the Rams win 37 games in 2009, while Borden joins them this season after two years at a junior college.

Another college player, Josh Keener at Coastal Carolina, didn't play at the LLWS, but his father, Steve Keener, is the President of Little League Baseball.

I can't say how many Little League World Series games I have sat and watched on TV over the years. The grand stage and the bright lights of the television cameras take a little away from the purity we attribute to baseball played by (mostly) 12 year olds, but it's still fun to watch. Part of the fun is, you just never know who you are watching will turn out to be.

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