For 30 years, Rob Stone has been a sports legend in Westport.
In 1983, his shot from midfield soared over the Ridgefield soccer goalkeeper’s head. There were just 7 minutes remaining in Staples’ state championship match. Rob’s goal — the only one of his varsity career — gave the Wreckers their 2nd straight state championship.
Now Rob’s son Matt has won a state title too. But he’s gone his dad one better.
Matt is a New England champion. He’s a catcher on the Westport Little League all-star team. Following Saturday’s nail-biting 1-0 win over Lincoln, Rhode Island, Matt and his teammates are headed to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. On Thursday (August 15, 7 p.m., ESPN2), they face South Nashville, Tennessee in game 1 of their double-elimination path to an international title.
That’s a goal Matt’s dad — or, until a couple of weeks ago, probably no one in Westport — ever dreamed of.
Westport Little League all-stars (from left) Max Popkin, Alex Reiner, Matt Stone and Drew Rogers look relaxed and happy.
The story began 2 years ago, when former Division I college pitcher Tim Rogers organized a 10-and-under AAU travel team, the Connecticut Seals.
The boys quickly began winning. They also won as a Little League District team, which included some (but not all) of the Seals.
A crushing Little League loss came in the District 2 finals. Leading with 2 outs in the bottom of the 6th (and final) inning, they lost on an error on a routine play. Fairfield — the team that pulled out that win — went on to win the state championship.
The loss was “the best thing that could have happened” to the boys, Rob says. He knew it meant something when his son changed his phone’s password to “LLWS2013.”
It stood for “Little League World Series 2013,” Matt told his father. “That’s what we all want.”
Pitcher Harry Azadian sent this photo to his teammates. It shows the Little League stadium in Williamsport — Westport’s goal for the past year.
The boys played all fall. During the winter they worked out at an indoor facility, with batting, pitching and fielding instructors.
When the Little League all-star season began this spring, Westport was virtually unchallenged. They went 7-0, outscoring their foes 63-7. Beating Fairfield National twice marked another big step.
In the 1st game of the sectional tournament, they avenged last year’s loss to a Bristol, Connecticut-area team. They faced the same pitcher who beat them previously — but exploded for an 8-0, no-hit victory.
They roared through the sectional and state championships — still undefeated — and headed to the New England tournament in Bristol.
(The final pitch of the New England championship, as shown on ESPN. If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)
The boys and coaches stayed in a dorm with other teams. Playing 6 games in 10 days, they outscored the opposition 43-8. Their 2 dominant pitchers and stellar defensive work have been as impressive as their prowess at the plate.
Just as important is their spirit. The boys teammates are “all best friends,” Rob says. “They have a great time together — very similar to the feeling of our soccer team 30 years ago. They have a great sense of humor, and are always joking with each other. They’re very cohesive, on and off the field.”
Every single player, Rob says, made “a big-time contribution” during their state and regional championship runs. And “there is unconditional support among the players. When mistakes happen, they own it as a team and pick each other up.”
Rob praises Tim as “an exceptional coach. He is really good with the kids. He knows how to focus them individually and collectively, and has great judgment. All the boys respect him, and have tremendous confidence in him and his decisions.”
That’s true “even when the decision might be negative for the player, like moving him down in the batting order or not starting him.”
Plenty of teams have plenty of talent. This Westport Little League all-star team has chemistry and passion too.
It’s taken them far.
But no matter how much farther they go, they’ve already won 2 things that are more important than any championship:
Confidence in themselves and each other.
And the hearts of everyone in their home town.
Parents and friends cheer the Westport Little League all-stars’ bus.