Tag Archives: Tim Rogers

From Williamsport To Westport: Last Inning For Baseball Stars

Six years ago, 11 6th and 7th grade baseball players mesmerized Westport.

The youngsters battled their way through through local, state and regional competition. They won in blowouts, and in nail-biting fashion.

They kept winning — all the way to the Little League World Series finals, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In 2013, Westport Little League All-Stars (front from left) Tatin Llamas, Chris Drbal and Chad Knight, plus Harry Azadian (rear) celebrated one of their many wins.

The dream ended in the championship game — on national TV — but they returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

It was a fantastic run. Unfortunately, too many times in youth sports, success at an early age is a recipe for disaster later on.

All that attention turns their heads. Other kids catch up — and surpass them. They discover other interests. Or they burn out.

Not every 12-year-old gets interviewed by ESPN. Harry Azadian did.

Thankfully, that is definitely not the case here.

Six years later, the Westport Little League All-Stars have become stars of the Staples High School baseball team.

Two years ago, they won the state LL (extra large schools) championship. This year, they’re battling for it again.

It’s a bittersweet time for them — and their parents. Four of the 11 players are seniors (the other 7 graduated last year). They’ve been together since they were 9 years old.

Soon — hopefully later rather than sooner, but in a single-elimination tournament, you never know — they will play their last game together.

Drew Rogers (7) and Chad Knight (27) celebrate. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

It’s an especially emotional time for Tim Rogers. He was their head coach, from those 9-year-old days through Williamsport, then beyond in travel baseball.

He’s watched with pride — and helped immensely — as his son Drew, and fellow seniors Harry Azadian, Chad Knight, Charlie Roof, have grown as baseball players.

And grown up, from boys into young men.

Rogers is proud of many things. One is that they handled that Little League World Series experience so well. Despite the demands of the sport — and the media — they were still kids. They met other players from around the world. They hung out, and made friends. 

Enjoying the 2013 parade, in the streets of Williamsport.

Then they took that experience, and brought it into the rest of their lives far beyond Williamsport.

Rogers is also proud that they have continued to play — and love — baseball. No one burned out. No one quit. No one peaked as a 12-year-old.

He is proud that 2 years ago — when other All-Stars, including Matt Stone, Tatin Llamas, Max Popken, Chris Drbal and Alex Reiner were still playing together — Staples beat 4-time defending state champion Amity High 5-1, in the LL title game.

Four years after the Little League World Series: pure joy, as Staples stops 4-time defending champion Amity High in the state class LL final.

All along, Rogers says, “they’ve found a way to win. They’re deep as a team, but that winning mentality is something intangible.”

He’s proud that they have become leaders. His son, Azadian and Knight are captains of this year’s Wreckers. They’re passing their competitiveness and values on to the younger players.

Rogers is proud that the Little League World Series finalists remained poised and humble. Ever since Williamsport, whenever they’re interviewed, they’ve put baseball in perspective.

Rogers may be proudest though that the longtime teammates still love being together. Through all their success — and occasional disappointments — they’ve remained close friends.

Captains (from left) Drew Rogers, Chad Knight and Harry Azadian, with Staples coach Jack McFarland. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Staples’ Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference is a brutal league. The Wreckers have had to fight for what they’ve gotten, every year.

This spring, they finished with the best record. On Wednesday night they avenged a regular season defeat to Fairfield Ludlowe by winning the FCIAC championship in storybook fashion.

Jake D’Amico — one of those younger players — drove in the winning run. On a 3-2 pitch. With 2 outs. In the bottom of the last inning.

Knight pitched a complete game, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 5.

Chad Knight (center) jumps for joy, as the Wreckers race onto the field after their dramatic FCIAC title win. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

The final quest — the state championship — starts Tuesday.

Graduations are always wonderful, and hard. For Rogers — who just turned 50, and saw his oldest son graduate from college — watching Drew and his baseball teammates march down the aisle, and out of high school, will be “one more step in my process,” he laughs.

So right now, he — and all the other parents, who have been together through so much and so long — are hoping the season lasts as long as it can.

So do the boys of so many summers.

The FCIAC champion 2019 Staples High School baseball team. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Westport To Williamsport: The Back Story

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.

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.

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.

Parents and friends cheer the Westport Little League all-stars’ bus.