Field of Dreams is one of the best sports movies of all time…heck, it’s one of the best movies of all time.  The only thing better than watching one of your favorite movies, is to experience it – be a part of it – to live it.  And, for the past Summer, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Lufkin Little League All Stars for allowing us to do just that.  

Thirteen young men, ages 12-13, lifted our spirits, lifted our dreams, and lifted our lives.  Despite all the turmoil, negativity, stress, and cataclysmic weather going on in our world, we became one.  One...along for a ride that we will never forget. It started as the communities of Lufkin, Central, Hudson, and Diboll who boasted players that formed the Thundering Thirteen.  From there, we were embraced by legions of fans that not only spanned the Pineywoods, but the Lone Star State, the greater Southwest Region, and eventually,  our nation as a whole.

How does a group of kids and their wonderful coaches do what many local and world leaders cannot accomplish?  How did these youngsters bind people together?  I mean, it’s just baseball, right?  Tons of folks play the game and many more watch it.  Many people in this area are diehard fans of the Astros or Rangers, but the following that our 13 developed was something on the next level.

Sure, winning, attracts people, and our all-stars did that…a lot.  However, I submit that it was the approach to the game that wowed and brought in fans to the fold. It was old-school, it was simplistic, it was focused, it was the way it should be…it was the way life should be.  Thirteen young men and coaches focused on a common goal--no one person more important than the other.  Words like respect, integrity, character, faith, and heart weren’t just buzz words, they were the foundation of how they played the game and treated each other and treated their opponents.

Through this Summer-long ride with all the hard work and two-a-days of practice, the one thing that stuck out the most to me…they had FUN, and showed it.  They were serious when they had to be, but they never let the game get bigger than it should.  Their smiles were infectious and it became easy to buy into the team's mojo. We fed off of them, and they fed off of us, and that’s a great way to keep a team’s engine rolling.

To the Lufkin Little League All-Stars, the United States Little League Champions, THANK YOU.  Thanks to you our lives became a Field of Hopes, a Field of Joys, and a Field of Unbridled Smiles and Goosebumps.  Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your Field of Dreams.

Before I close this article, I’d like to offer up a few more specific thanks

Coach Bud Maddux – Thank you for leading our boys.  What you’ve taught these young men will continue to lead them through the rest of their lives.  And, thanks for becoming a one-man quote machine for the World Series TV broadcasts.

Coaches Malcolm Deason and Ryan Deaton – Thank you for your amazing sacrifices that you made over the past several months.  You helped give the kids direction and a work and life ethic that these youngsters bought into.

Clayton Wigley – You are the embodiment of what this team is all about.  Just play the game hard whenever called upon and have fun.  One minute, he’s talking funny after sucking the helium out of a balloon at Whataburger, the next, he’s hitting clutch homers on a regional and national stage.  Moral – if your kid is in the outfield playing with dandelions at a t-ball game…let him…he might grow up to be Clayton Wigley.

Malcolm Deason – He did it all.  He was a highlight reel at 2nd base and had numerous clutch liners, including one that taught a pitcher from Connecticut just how quickly a baseball can cover 40 feet.  He even made ESPN’s Top Ten Plays with a diving stop at 2nd.  And, not since Forrest Gump drank all those Dr. Peppers did someone get heard saying they had to pee on national TV.

Hunter Ditsworth –Your pitching and hitting were legendary and much of that you attributed to your BFF, Bree, also known as your playing glove.  ESPN couldn’t get enough of that story.  You may have started a trend which could catch on like wildfire.  Maybe someday, Jose Altuve will be driving around Houston with his glove strapped into the passenger seat.  Probably not a good idea, since I don’t think either one would be able to see over the dashboard.

Chip Buchanan – Your defense at the hot corner was spectacular, and getting the 3 outs with 2 pitches in Waco to secure our place in Williamsport was amazing, plus the final inning and a third for the US Championship…you have ice water in your veins.

Collin Ross – When you’re not hitting home runs, you’re robbing home runs in the outfield.  And your dominating performances on the mound…dude, do you even lift?  Have fun following up on all those girls’ phone numbers that you got at Williamsport – your mom ratted you out the national radio broadcast.

Blake Slaga – short hop, long hop, bad hop…all balls seemed to effortlessly end up in your glove.  I think your new nickname should be ‘turn two’.

Christian Mumphrey -  I don’t know if any statistics are kept on this, but I’ll bet you’re the only player in Little League history to hit two homers with two Major League teams watching from the stands.  Well played, Christian, well played.

Kolby Kovar – Holy cow!  That catch you made in left field against the fence was awesome.  I thought Conor McGregor had a better chance of winning his fight than you did of making that circus catch. Well done.

Mark Requena – From this day forward in North Carolina, anytime something bad happens to someone there it will be called a ‘Requena’.  Example, “Hey Fred, heard you got fired.” “Yup, I got Requena’ed”.  You were the first person to get a hit off Carolina pitching (after over 14 innings), through two games they never got you out, and you hit the winning homer that capped off a wild comeback.  We love Mark Requena…but I wouldn’t visit the Tar Heel State anytime soon.

Chandler Spencer – Does anyone hit ‘louder’ home runs than you?  Your ‘down to the last strike’ rope against Texas West at the regionals was a decibel spiker at sports bars and homes across East Texas.  And after your first pitch dinger against Japan, I may have permanent hearing loss in my left ear (thanks to my wife)

Zach Phipps, Charlie Deaton, Lance Modisette – Thank you for being our sparks when called upon.  Zack had an on base percentage of .333 during the World Series, Deaton had a .286, and Lance got a base hit against New England that started the rally to close out the game in the 5th inning.

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