Yes, it’s been five years since Mountain Ridge became the first team from Nevada to qualify for the Little League World Series and 14 boys became overnight heroes across the valley.
t’s funny those details some remember. Austin Kryszczuk said it was more surreal than anything, running into a dog pile of teammates after clinching the ultimate Little League dream, being rushed into a meeting of adults who delivered a fairly involved travel itinerary, saying goodbye to family and friends, boarding a bus in San Bernardino for Los Angeles, beginning the journey that would change their lives.
A flight from LAX to LaGuardia in New York would be followed by another bus ride, this one lasting almost four hours and delivering them atop a hill in the blackness of a Pennsylvania night, high above what any youth baseball player would define as paradise.
Less than 24 hours after celebration following the Western Regional final victory in California, they stood seemingly a world away, basking in the Northeastern wonderment of a treasured and historic place.
“The field lights were on, but not the regular ones, but you could still see the outline of it,” Kryszczuk said. “We stood on tables outside our dorm and just stared. We were like, ‘We’re here. We made it.’ It was super cool.
“It all kind of went by in a blink. As you reflect on it more, you realize a lot of stuff that happened. In the moment, you just enjoyed it and took it day by day. You didn’t really know what was going on around you.”
A special swing
No one had envisioned it more in years prior, and no one’s star shone brighter for Mountain Ridge when play began five years ago at Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport.
For the first Nevada team to play in the Little League World Series, there was no question whose face most defined that 2014 team, a pitcher/first baseman who had flawless hitting mechanics, if there were such a thing for a 13-year-old. Kryszczuk had the hands, the load, the stride, the balance and the finish. His was a special swing.
Mo’ne Davis, with her Philadelphia fastball, was the most recognized player at the event, but Kryszczuk was the most talented one. He was just different, embracing the joy of competing above all else, dreaming for years of running bases at Lamade, a kid whose skill matched his desire to be great, who respected his surroundings in an almost reverent manner.
He wanted to win in the most impassioned way. Still does.
He is now 18 and preparing for college. He signed to play baseball at UNLV after a four-year varsity career at Centennial High School, where he was a three-year captain and all-state performer.
Like all Mountain Ridge players and coaches, he is amazed at how much time has passed, the days of autographs and ESPN cameras and free bats and sunglasses and gear and, yes, another of Williamsport’s annual attractions clear in his thoughts.
“The girls,” he said. “There were girls from all over.
“We definitely tried to spend as much time with them as we could, but (Mountain Ridge manager) Ashton (Cave) was pretty strict. He let us have fun. It was a good balance. We were good kids just enjoying the moment. When it came time to play, we put all the other stuff aside. Ashton would never let us do anything too crazy. No shot. Would never happen.”
Social media star
Do you know how powerful the allure and celebrity of Williamsport can be those few weeks each August?
Kryszczuk arrived at the World Series with 400 Instagram followers. He departed with almost 15,000, and enough phone numbers to make Derek Jeter blush.
“It was a whirlwind,” said Bob Kryszczuk, Austin’s father and an assistant coach on the Mountain Ridge team. “It took a while for everything to get back to normal. For Austin, we just told him this happened and it was fantastic, but it’s only a certain part of your life. Enjoy it, but now you have to move forward. He did.
“He doesn’t speak about it much. He put it behind him and pushed forward. Now, he’s ready to start his college career.”
Many wondered how the star status of Mountain Ridge players, especially Kryszczuk, might affect the boys as they returned hometown heroes to a Las Vegas community that became enraptured with their run to the U.S. championship game.
The mayor was at the airport to greet them, after their plane received a water salute from local firemen, of which Cave is one. There was a parade on the Strip, a key to the city, more TV interviews, politicians and proclamations alike, an 8- by 12-foot recognition wall at their home park, players being approached for months afterward throughout town.
All the while, the most talented kid from 2014 just kept trying to become a better player.
“Watching (Kryszczuk) at the time of the Little League World Series, I knew he was a good athlete with good sportsmanship,” Centennial coach Charlie Cerrone said. “Once we got him and got to know him as a person, I was even more excited. Top-quality kid, top-quality work ethic, top-quality skills.
“You know, we got several kids from that Little League team, and all of them are humble and confident. We never saw any (attitude) hangover from what they did. Ever.”
Including the one whose star shone brightest.