As the coach of Oklahoma’s Little League team noted, if one saw a different player, in a different game, get hit in the head with a pitch and then leave first base to walk to the mound, one “might think he was going out to punch the guy.”
No, what 12-year-old Isaiah Jarvis did was give the opposing pitcher — who was visibly upset over possibly causing an injury — a warm, reassuring hug.
The moment, shown Tuesday to a national television audience on ESPN during the Southwest Region championship game with a berth in the Little League World Series at stake, quickly went viral. The display of sportsmanship, not to mention outright compassion, also brought tears to the eyes of more than a few observers, including some coaches and fans at Marvin Norcross Stadium in Waco, Tex.
“It was the most remarkable thing I think I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kouplen said in a phone interview.
The episode occurred in the first inning of a game between a team from Tulsa, representing Oklahoma, and a Texas East squad composed of youngsters from Pearland, a city near Houston. Kaiden Shelton, on the mound for Texas East, lost control of a pitch that veered high and inside too quickly for Jarvis to get out of the way. The ball knocked Jarvis’s helmet off and left him clutching his head on the ground for several terrifying moments.
To everyone’s relief, Jarvis was able to get back up and take his base. Meanwhile, Shelton was in clear distress over what had happened.
“When I was at first base, that’s when I saw him crying,” Jarvis said later when he and Kouplen were reached by phone. “And if I was there, I’d probably be doing the same thing, because hitting someone in the head is not an easy thing to overcome, mentally and emotionally. If you hit a guy, you’d probably be pretty down on yourself after that, and emotional, and you’ve got to think: ‘Is he okay? Did I just give him a concussion?’ … So I was making sure he was okay and was telling him I was okay and just telling him it was fine.”
During their embrace, Jarvis said, Shelton repeatedly expressed his sorrow over the pitch and asked how the Oklahoma player was feeling.
Jarvis later said he “just had a small headache” but was “fine” and was well aware of how much worse it could have been.
“If that ball had broke, like, a half more of an inch, it could have broken my jaw,” he said, “and I’d be knocked out, right? So God controlled that whole moment.”
Texas East went on to win the game, 9-4, and move on to the World Series, which will take place this month in Williamsport, Pa.
The Oklahoma team’s season ended just short of attaining a dream shared by countless young baseball players, but unbeknown to the team at the time, footage of the hug was being shared all over the internet and generating a huge amount of goodwill for the kids from Tulsa.
“The boys played great but just couldn’t quite pull it off today, so we were all kind of bummed out,” Kouplen said. “We’re over on the sideline, talking and signing each other’s helmets and kind of doing end-of-season stuff, and some of the parents in the stands were telling us how Isaiah’s video had gone viral and had 200,000 likes or whatever. I don’t know about him, but I didn’t even know it was on TV. We didn’t realize that it was something that was distributed publicly, so it was kind of a shocker.”
Kouplen added that neither he nor anyone else told Jarvis to comfort Shelton, but when the coach saw him head toward the opposing pitcher, he expected a positive deed based on Jarvis’s character.
“I knew that he was going to do something kind,” Kouplen said.
The poignancy of the game’s outcome — suffering a heartbreaking loss on the field but creating a heartwarming, nationally recognized example of sportsmanship along the way — was not lost on the head of the Tulsa Little League organization that assembled Jarvis and his teammates for a run at the World Series.
“I think we’ll get a lot of recognition, properly so,” the Tulsa official, Stephen Skocik, said Tuesday by phone. “This is the way we play ball; this is the way we play our league. It is Little League, and so this is why we play. We’re trying to make major league people.”
Jarvis’s father echoed that goal of using sports to instill positive qualities that his son and others can take away from the diamond.
“I’m a coach myself,” Austin Jarvis said, “and he hears me tell my players all the time that it’s not just about baseball.
“Being a good person is more important than being a great player,” he added, “and seeing him exemplify that on the field today and on television — which I didn’t even know it was on TV in that moment — seeing him do that just makes me really proud.”
“What Isaiah did,” Kouplen said, “is what our whole world should be doing right now: loving others, above and beyond our differences. It was truly inspiring.”