Douglas Smallwood, 15 years old and 6 feet 2, had carried his Frederick team to the final three of the Babe Ruth World Series here on the speed of his 85-mph fast ball. He started, and won, three of six games in seven days, each time pitching in front of hometown crowds exceeding 5,000.
A quick way for a small-town boy to become a celebrity, or vice versa. Baseball, unlike football, is a sport that exposes the individual and opens him to endless praise and, sometimes, cruel scrutiny.
"A lot of the kids are scared out there," said Nashville Manager Billy Griggs, who's been to the World Series two of the past three years. "It takes a lot of poise to perform in front of large crowds, especially for a 15-year-old. At times, I don't think the crowds affect the kids, but then's there's other times when I'm not so sure. There is one thing I'm positive about, and that's that they love it. There's a little bit of ham in all of them."
Frederick didn't win the nine-team, double-elimination tournament, but the local team upset regional champions from Montana, New Jersey, Missouri and Kentucky in a tournament it qualified for only by being the host city.
For those seven days, the city of Frederick was in a frenzy. It packed the stands of McCurdy Field, rooted for its team and created big-time tension. On Thursday night, the fans were treated to a four-hitter by Smallwood and a 3-2, 10-inning victory over Fern Creek, Ky. On every pitch, the crowd was at a fever pitch, not like the 50-spectator games most Babe Ruthers grow accustomed to in the hot, sticky days and nights of the regular season.
And when it's all over for the losers, it hurts. But that's inevitable for most, just like the first day of school in early September. "I shed my share of tears," said Fern Creek's Mark Miller after the 10-inning loss. "It was getting to the point where I didn't think we could lose. We were undefeated, then came here and lost two. I'll never forget this, though, I have to admit, I was scared, nervous and intimidated."
Many were intimidated by Smallwood's fast ball--the kind that attracts major-league scouts. Smallwood said he never pitched better, and said the size of the crowd may have helped him. "I've never played baseball in front of so many people," he said. "It really makes you feel good to hear them chanting your name, it was really exciting out there."
In addition to Smallwood's record three pitching victories, he also tied the record of five hits in one game. However, Frederick lost to Nashville, 12-11, Friday night in the final of the losers' bracket. Smallwood wasn't allowed to pitch against Nashville because World Series rules prohibit pitching on consecutive nights, protecting the young arms, and protecting the integrity of go-for-it-all coaches, thirsty for a championship.
"There would be temptation to throw kids night after night, and the kids would be all too eager to do it," Griggs said. "The rule is good, for both the coaches and pitchers."
With microphones and cameras surrounding a smiling Smallwood following Thusday night's game, there was little focus on Fern Creek's Joe Buckley. He was the first baseman who charged down the line and had a chance to pick up the game's last bunt. But instead of making a flip to an awaiting catcher with plenty of time to get Frederick baserunner Joey Whipp, Buckley bobbled the ball and the winning run scored.
For Buckley, the play will remain in his head a long time--an outstretched glove, a bouncing ball, a game lost.