The cruel part is that it can end so quickly, that you can reach the apex of the roller coaster with one swing of the bat and plummet to its foundation minutes later.
Baseball can be as heartbreaking as it is gratifying.
It can bring tears to the eyes of a 12-year-old faster than joy to his heart.
Mountain Ridge saw its dream of a Little League World Series title halted Saturday when it lost to the Great Lakes champion from Chicago 7-5 in the U.S. title game before 27,428 at Lamade Stadium and an ABC-TV audience.
It was the first time in four games in Williamsport that Mountain Ridge tasted defeat, and it came in a most painful manner.
Las Vegas took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth inning on Bradley Stone’s two-run homer and was six outs from being crowned U.S. champions and securing a date against South Korea in today’s World Series final.
But there was no quit in the Great Lakes, a team Mountain Ridge routed 13-2 last Sunday. Chicago answered Stone’s huge hit with three runs in the bottom of the fifth and ended the game in the sixth with its second double play of the afternoon.
Chicago: a deserving U.S. champion.
Mountain Ridge will play Japan at 7 a.m. PDT today on ESPN for third place, but already those from Las Vegas were trying to define what this run to the World Series meant.
In becoming the first team in Nevada history to reach Williamsport, Mountain Ridge cleared a barrier that for so many decades was unattainable, advancing out of a West Region that includes traditional powers from Northern and Southern California and Hawaii.
And when it arrived in the birthplace of Little League, Mountain Ridge made a name for itself.
It outscored four opponents 38-12, opening eyes across the globe that within the desert town known most for its resorts and gambling and nightlife there also exists a level of youth baseball that, at least in this particular year, was on par with the world’s best.
“Some of us are doing OK, some of us are mad, some of us are sad,” Mountain Ridge player Josh Zuehlsdorff said. “To be the first team from Nevada here, it makes you feel important to be part of that history. I’m glad we didn’t lose to a bad team. (Great Lakes) is a very good, talented team that’s made to win, like all teams here. It’s a hard loss, but we have to pick ourselves up. We’ve had a great time here, and we get to play another game.
“We want to thank all of Las Vegas for rooting for us. That support kept us going throughout the whole tournament.”
It was a difficult time for Mountain Ridge not to play its best game, to have left-handed pitcher Austin Kryszczuk scratched from starting with shoulder tightness, to leave five runners on base through six innings, to not be as sharp with the gloves as it had been all week.
But in the Great Lakes, you had a side that took advantage of walks and miscues better than any of the other 15 teams in Williamsport.
They just punished people with speed and aggression.
“A tight game that could have gone either way,” Great Lakes manager Darold Butler said. “An exciting, intense game. It hasn’t sunk in that we won. It hasn’t hit me. Our kids hate to lose. They’re horrible losers. They wanted to play (Mountain Ridge) immediately after losing to them Sunday. They knew we were better than that score. They wanted another shot and got it and did well.”
Ashton Cave has spent his time in Williamsport reminding everyone of the big picture, of how the Mountain Ridge story should be told, no matter where in the standings the team might finish. No one had more balance to his message than the Mountain Ridge manager. No one understood the long-term vision better.
That part didn’t change after his team’s loss, as the 36-year-old father of five spoke about a sense of perspective he hopes 14 players who created so many memories and smiles for themselves and all of Las Vegas will take from the experience.
“I lost my brother (at age 30) last year, and he had a wife and two children,” Cave said. “Now that was very difficult. That’s real loss. I also see it all the time in my job as (a firefighter).
“This game is not fatal. It’s a game. It teaches young men that you’re going to fail, that there are going to be losses, that losing is part of it, and we need to deal with and accept that. You can’t let it eat at you and ruin you. Learn from the experience. Embrace the joy and fun of playing the game. Embrace the freedom we have to play it, and always remember those out there protecting our freedom.
“Give credit to Chicago. That’s a phenomenal team. Mountain Ridge Little League put a dot on the map that made history for Nevada. We brought a community together back home. What a great accomplishment for these kids. I hope they go out there (against Japan today) and have the time of their lives. Go have fun playing the game. Finish this off on a high note. The pressure is gone. After this, some of them might never pick up a ball again. Some might end up ... who knows what the potential is for some? But they get another chance to enjoy a wonderful game on a world stage.
“I mean, how great is that?”
More than 6,500 teams exist in Little League throughout the United States.
Today, Mountain Ridge ranks second only to a team from Chicago.
Pretty great indeed.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.