“It makes us want to be here one day. It makes us want to work harder to get here,” said 13-year-old
Allex Gooch, who plays for Mercer’s King Middle School and whose older brother Addam is the Titans’ starting catcher. “We look up to them.”
Their support at Mercer’s two state tournament games hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It’s been neat seeing all the kids at the games with their jerseys on,”¿Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said.
Little League baseball is a still big deal at Anderson-Dean Community Park in Harrodsburg, where the fields stay busy during the spring and early summer.
“Kids start out about 5 years old playing T-Ball, and they just keep on sticking with it,” said 14-year-old Zach Taylor, who will be a Mercer freshman this summer.
The Titans have taken time for those who will follow in their footsteps. Middle school players said Shope has attended a number of their games, and several players have gone out of their way to help middle school players and even Little Leaguers.
“They’re helping with the younger guys, trying to teach them stuff,”¿said 14-year-old Cory Shewmaker, another freshman-to-be.
“We’re always at the park either playing volleyball or swimming or something, so if we catch somebody down on the field that we know, we always go down there and at least try to play around with them or just give them a few pointers,”¿he said.
Mark Bryant, the Anderson-Dean park director and the King Middle School coach, said little things like that can make a big impression.
“It’s really neat to see that, where the older guys come down and just talk to those younger kids, give them a few pointers or throw with them. It makes their day,” Bryant said.
Addam Gooch said he believes what the Titans learned in Little League helped them climb to new heights in high school.
“I believe that’s what really actually made our program at first, all the guys have grown up playing Little League at Anderson-Dean park,” he said.
The Mercer Little League program has produced a number of district championship teams and even a couple of state champions, and Shope said the Titans owe a great deal of their success to those who teach the game at that level.
“This goes out to everybody in the community that has a part in baseball, all the way down to Little League,”¿Shope said. “Learning how to play baseball at an early age is awfully important, and people in
Mercer County have done a great job in that, and I’m very thankful to have the Little League program that we have.
“Baseball has been a big part of Mercer County for several years now, so it’s nice to see that all that hard work is paying off.”
Bryant said the success of the high school team can only improve the youth program, too.
“I think when you see the older guys, the high school guys being successful, it’s kind of like watching the NBA¿on TV, you go out in the backyard and start shooting basketball, and now it’s the same thing with baseball, you go out in the backyard and hit a home run like (Colin) Buckner has,”¿he said, referring to the Mercer first baseman who has homered in each of the team’s two games in Lexington.
The middle school players said they are eager for their chance to play for Shope and his staff.
“We’d love to,”¿Shewmaker said.
So would 10-year-old Nathan Tatum, who plays for the Reds in Mercer’s Little League and who has a coveted seat beside the Titans’ dugout this week as the team’s bat boy because his father, Spencer, joined the coaching staff this season.
“It’s great. This is me and my dad’s first year, and they’ve made it this far. It’s unbelieveable,”¿Tatum said. “I¿think (Shope is) a great coach, the best coach I’ve ever met, and I¿just hope he keeps doing good.”