Alabama town gets inspiration from '99

That year, Phenix City advanced to the Little League World Series. Their proteges hope to follow.

Published August 9, 2005

GULFPORT - The Alabama state champions sat on the the grass at their Little League complex in the tiny town of Phenix City before embarking for Florida. The boys listened with wide-eyed enthusiasm as baseball greats they admired spoke about what to expect in this week's Southeastern Regional.

No, it wasn't Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez doling out the advice. The players holding their attention were much more to these 11- and 12-year old kids.

"Those guys are heroes to the boys," Phenix City manager Wayne Nevels said.

Those guys - Bryan Woodall, Zack Martin and Eric Skinner - played on the 1999 National Championship Phenix City team that won the region and advanced to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa. All three are signed to play at Auburn gave something back to team - and Little League - they played for.

"It really shows what a good bunch of guys they are," Nevels said. "This wasn't something they had to do, but they heard about the boys going to regionals through word of mouth and they were so proud and excited for them."

Tips ranged from dorm life at the Gulfport complex to baseball advice to what to expect from the crowds.

"They warned us about how good the competition would be and they said balls would be hit out of the park and not to get down on ourselves," second baseman Dylan Nevels said. "They let us know that our pitching wouldn't be as dominant as it was at the state level."

Those words proved prophetic in Alabama's second game when Phenix City gave up four home runs in the first four innings. But down 8-1, Alabama rallied for five runs in the last two innings - including three homers of its own - before losing 8-6.

"They told us that it was okay to be nervous," outfielder Cody Hughes said. "So we didn't panic when things like that happened in the game."

Hughes, who was 7 at the time, sat glued to his television watching the 1999 Phenix City team play at Williamsport.

Phenix City also got words of encouragement by telephone from 1999 team members Colby Rasmus and Brandon Monk, both selected in the amateur draft. By seeing the successes of the 1999 team - both then and now - this year's version had something tangible to shoot for.

"They are a very big inspiration to me," Hughes said. "By seeing them make it to Williamsport and what they've done since, it makes me think I can make a career of baseball, too."