SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - David Rook walked into his last Little League Baseball World Series press conference with his son Kaleb by his side.
Winning teams bring players along with the manager, but traditionally Little League just has the manager of the losing team come to the interview room.
Rook, the Post Oak manager, made an exception, not just because of the effort his son put together as the starting pitcher in Monday’s 7-6, nine-inning loss to Peachtree City, Ga. that ended the team’s run.
“We started Little League together and we’re going to go out together,” David Rook said.
Tuesday was the last day together in Williamsport for the team. Ten days earlier, with the exception of those whose fathers were on the coaching staff, the members of the Texas East and Southwest Regional champions left their families to embark on the trip to Pennsylvania with the dream of coming home as world champions.
The return trip was different.
Players packed up at the dorms in the International Grove, leaving behind many of their rivals and some new friends. Instead of team buses and flights, they headed back to Houston in smaller groups, each traveling with those who brought them into Little League in the first place, the family members that followed them here to provide encouragement. They will be recognized by Houston Mayer Sylvester Turner next Tuesday.
At the press conference, Kaleb Rook had done his best to sum up the feelings of the teammates as they prepared for the last night of dorm life with peers chasing the same goals.
“I bet we’ll remember it fondly,” Kaleb said, “but I bet everybody’s really sad right now.
“We’re all probably going to look back on this and think it’s really cool.”
As the rest of the Little League World Series unfolds between now and Sunday, there will be teams of abilities similar to Post Oak still chasing championships.
A fine line separated the best teams in this year’s field. Both Post Oak losses came by a single run with the elimination coming in extra innings when a series of small plays added up to a four-run lead getting away.
“We’ve talked to the boys about that,” David Rook said. “The teams are all really good and it’s the little things. It’s base running; getting to second base on a fly ball so you might be able to score. Or taking for granted that somebody else is going to make a play on a pop up.
“ … Those are little things but then they compound. You hang a ball to a big kid and he’s going to hit it out.”
Post Oak is not alone in learning just how small the difference is between victory and defeat.
The series field has been trimmed in half through 20 games of play in the modified double-elimination tournament. Those games have already included six walk-off victories, including wins in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings of what are scheduled to be six-inning contests.
Post Oak suffered two of the six one-run losses. It also got its win in one of the six more games that have ended in two-run margins.
Through the 20 games, the outcomes have been decided by an average of 2.9 runs. When looking at just the U.S. games, the margins are even smaller.
At the same stage a year ago, the average margin sat at 5.7 runs. There had been only five decided by two runs or less, instead of a dozen and there had been four double-figures win instead of just one.