|Petaluma Little Leaguers: ‘Work hard, why not us?’
‘Big Cat’s’ father tells story of dedication and commitment that took Sonoma County fans on magical LLWS ride
This past Sunday (Sept. 2), a crowd of thousands joined in celebrating the Petaluma Nationals Little League team’s historic achievement. As the team rode through the downtown streets of Petaluma in convertible classic cars, preceded by marching bands and military airplane flybys, the parents and family members of the 13 boys stood by, beaming with pride and watching in awe, just as they have done throughout this team’s entire amazing journey.
“The love and support of the community has been unbelievable,” said Mike Smith, father of Bradley Smith, affectionately known by his teammates as “Big Cat.”
Boys doing what they love
The day before the parade, at the peak of the euphoria, upon the teams return home, The Community Voice had a chance to meet with Mike Smith to get a real understanding of what the experience felt like from a parent’s perspective. “The boys just love baseball, they just love to play ball” Mike said.
It may be all for the love of the game for these 12 and 13-year-old boys, but the impact and greater message is beyond the game. This team of dedicated young men has made a big impact with a positive contribution to not only Petaluma, but to all communities in Sonoma County. And the boys created a renewed sense of hope, pride, and unity far beyond the ball field.
Three monumental weeks and a 13-game run took the players and their families coast to coast, from San Bernardino to South Williamsport, Penn. Shuttled from event to event, living in hotels, and getting many of their meals out of ice chests never dampened the spirits of these admirable young players, nor were their families deterred from doing whatever it took to be at every game
The dedication it takes to fully participate in a sport, let alone a World Series, is intense, and the details that go into making it all happen are mixed with many joys and many challenges.
“We just wanted to make it to San Bernardino,” Mike said. “After winning there, my mind started spinning during the eight-hour drive home, ‘how are we going to make this work? We just gotta do it!’”
Time off work, airplane flights, bus rides, car rentals and hotel rooms are all expenses eventually reimbursed. But initially, they are incurred by the families, sometimes causing major financial strains.
With a determined grin Mike states, “But at the end of the day, all that matters is getting to the game to watch my boy play.”
With hard work and the right attitude, anything is possible. “Work hard, why not us?” has been the teams motto all along and so clearly defines their winning spirit.
The dedication and commitment did not just start during the World Series. Like Mike, many of these parents have been delving into this level of commitment toward the game since their kids were very little. With a fervor in his voice, Mike attests to his routine, and says he is out there throwing the ball with his boys every night.
This unrelenting devotion is understandable, because for he and Bradley, none of this may have ever happened. When Bradley was just 3 years old, Mike was involved in an accident and suffered a serious injury that almost left his arm permanently disabled. With tears forming in his eyes, he reveals his only plea to the doctor was to be able to play ball with his son.
It all pays off
Thankfully, his wish came true, and the same tenacious spirit and love for the game that has Mike throwing the ball till sundown every night, is evident in his son’s success. The opportunity to work hard toward a dream is there everyday, for anyone to embrace. The motto of the team was, “Work hard, why not us!” In the end, perhaps sharing their motto will be the greatest enduring contribution the Petaluma Nationals team and their families will have given to their community.