|The Goodlettsville Little League All Stars were welcomed home on Monday, Aug. 29, after their performance in the Little League World Series. The team finished as the U.S. championship runner-up. Robert Carroll, whose four older brothers have either graduated from or are current students at Pope John Paul II High School, is greeted by fans. Photos by Andy Telli|
For the second time in four years, the Goodlettsville All-Stars made it all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And just like last time, the team included players with connections to the Catholic community.
Carson Rucker, whose older brother Jake was a member of the 2012 Goodlettsville All Stars who won the U.S. National Championship, and is a junior at Pope John Paul II High School, was the starting shortstop for this year’s team and is a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield.
And Robert Carroll, whose four older brothers are either graduates or current students at JPII, had the game-winning hit in Goodlettsville’s first game in the tournament against Oregon.
Kippy Brown, the former head basketball coach at JPII and whose son Jayson was the starting centerfielder on the 2012 team, served as one of the assistant coaches for this year’s team.
“It’s actually easier” to be a coach than to watch the games as a parent, said Brown. “It’s less stressful. You’re occupied with the game and the team instead of sitting there with no control.”
The parents of this year’s team can certainly relate to Brown’s comments.
“I was shaking. I was literally shaking,” Margaret Carroll said of watching her son hit a walk-off double to beat the Bend, Oregon team in Goodlettsville’s first game.
Even though this was her second son to make it to the World Series, watching can be stressful, said Jill Rucker. When Carson would come up to bat, “You’re thinking, ‘Should I look, should I look.’ And the TV cameras are on you,” she said.
When Goodlettsville fell behind, the nerves were wearing on the Goodlettsville fans in the stands. “We were really nervous this time because the games were so close,” said Andy Rucker, Carson’s dad. “We couldn’t show it on our faces. We just had to cheer the boys on.”
They had help from all their friends back home in Tennessee. The Ruckers’ fellow parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes told them they were putting it in the bulletin that Carson was at the World Series and they were praying for them, Jill Rucker said. “I said, ‘Good we need all the prayers we can get.’”
|Coach Joey Hall, above left, points to someone in the crowd while introducing Carson Rucker, beside him, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield and the brother of Jake Rucker, a junior at Pope John Paul II High School.|
At Sumner Academy, where Robert Carroll is in the seventh grade, the students were able to watch the afternoon games on television and the cafeteria served ballpark favorites Cracker Jacks and popcorn in honor of Robert and his teammates, Margaret Carroll said.
“He’s had an amazing summer for a 12-year-old,” she said. Robert also plays on a travel team out of Mt. Juliet and he started playing in the Goodlettsville Little League to get some extra playing time in before his travel team schedule picked up, she explained. Earlier in the summer, the travel team played in a tournament in Cooperstown, New York, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and then the Goodlettsville All-Star team made its way to the World Series winning the Little League district, state and Southeast Regional tournaments to get to Williamsport.
“Cooperstown and Williamsburg in the same summer is a summer to remember,” Margaret Carroll said.
The Goodlettsville team had to battle its way out of the loser’s bracket to make it to the U.S. Championship game where they fell to eventual World Series champion Endwell, New York. In the consolation game against Panama, the Goodlettsville team lost on a walk-off home run, and finished fourth in the world.
“To come out of the loser’s bracket to make the U.S. National Championship game is a big accomplishment,” said Andy Rucker. “These kids are fighters. They’re battlers.”
Although there were plenty of accomplishments on the field, it was the friendships they were able to make with players from other teams – and other countries – that Carson, a sixth grader at White House-Heritage Elementary School, and Robert enjoyed the most.
“The best part was meeting different people,” particularly the players from Curacao and Mexico, said Robert, whose brothers Travis and Jimmy graduated from JPII in 2014 and 2016, respectively, while brothers Gordon and Matthew are a junior and sophomore. “It was cool to hear what they were like.”
“They speak four or five different languages,” Carson said of the Curacao players.
Carson spent a lot of his free time trading pins and other souvenirs with players from the other teams, his parents said. “He wanted to do that more than anything,” Andy Rucker said. “It relaxed him. He loved doing it.”
Carson was the youngest player on the Goodlettsville team, and as an 11-year-old he would be eligible for another try at the World Series next year. “I’m hoping to go back,” he said.