Ken­tucky Lit­tle League team hon­ors team­mate they lost

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - By David Eck­ert

SOUTH WILLIAMSPO­RT, Pa. — Just be­fore he threw the first pitch in the big­gest game of his life, Grayson New­man bent down on the La­made Sta­dium pitch­ing mound and swiped his finger through the dirt twice to scratch a num­ber 11 be­hind the rub­ber.

New­man re­peats his rit­ual after ev­ery strike­out to re­mem­ber one of his best friends, Ma­son Good­night, who played with this group of kids from Bowl­ing Green, Ken­tucky, un­til he died from a rare form of bac­te­rial laryn­gi­tis in April 2017 at the age of 10.

“I think it’s just im­por­tant to honor him,” New­man said. “He was one of my best friends. We were re­ally close. He’s helped us through so much, and it re­ally means a lot to me.”

His No. 11 jersey fol­lows this team from Bowl­ing Green wher­ever it goes at the Lit­tle League World Se­ries. New­man car­ried it with him through pre-game in­tro­duc­tions, and it hung inside the team’s dugout for its LLWS opener — a hard­fought 2-1 loss on Fri­day to Min­nesota.

Jef Good­night, Ma­son’s fa­ther, is one of the coaches for the Ken­tucky team. His big­gest wish when Ma­son passed was that he wouldn’t be for­got­ten.

The team has helped grant that wish.

“Wher­ever we go, what­ever they do, they tell his story, and that’s just ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” Good­night said.

Ma­son, Jef said, was a happy-go-lucky kid with long, bleach-blond hair that he hated brush­ing. He wore what seemed like a per­ma­nent smile. The friends he grew up play­ing with in a tightly knit Bowl­ing Green neigh­bor­hood now help fill the Great Lakes ros­ter.

For the Good­night fam­ily, Bowl­ing Green East­ern Lit­tle League has been a place of re­prieve. Coach­ing a team full of Ma­son’s friends quickly be­came a source of ther­apy, Jef said.

“These kids are my ex­ten­sion of Ma­son,” Jef said. “I love them with all my heart. I could never in a mil­lion years tell them how much they’ve helped me, be­cause it’s more than I’ve ever helped them.”

The Good­nights at­tended Ma­son’s funeral on April 10, 2017, and two days later Jef was out at the league’s open­ing cer­e­mony, throw­ing out the first pitch.

Since then, No. 11 has been a fix­ture for this group. They’ve used Ma­son as a ral

ly­ing point when­ever they’ve faced ad­ver­sity on their way to South Williamspo­rt.

The team had MG11 but­tons made that they’ve distribute­d to other fans at the LLWS. Some fans donned MG11 shirts in the Great Lakes blue and orange col­ors as they watched

from the La­made Sta­dium bleach­ers. Oth­ers watch­ing from home snapped photos of them­selves wear­ing that gear and sent it along to Jef.

“It’s ab­so­lutely over­whelm­ing,” Jef said.

“The com­mu­nity has wrapped its arms around my fam­ily.”

New­man said he feels Ma­son with him dur­ing games — es­pe­cially big ones — and that helps him

re­lax on the mound and at the plate.

“I think it’s re­ally helped us a lot, to get to rally around him, have him be with us, with his jersey in the dugout,” New­man said.

That’s the only place you’ll find a No. 11 jersey at the Lit­tle League World Se­ries. The num­ber is re­tired for for­mer player Michael Cam­marata, a fire­fighter who died in the

res­cue at­tempt after the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hav­ing dropped into the loser’s bracket, Ken­tucky has a long road ahead if it hopes to ad­vance deep into this LLWS.

Un­doubt­edly, New­man and the rest of the play­ers will draw strength from No. 11 as they look to bounce back.

GENE J. PUSKAR/AP

In this Thurs­day, Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, the Great Lakes Re­gion Cham­pion Lit­tle League team from Bowl­ing Green, Ky., car­ries the jersey of a friend and team­mate they lost at age 10 -- Ma­son Good­night, whose dad, Jef, is an as­sis­tant coach, as they par­tic­i­pate in the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2019 Lit­tle League World Se­ries tour­na­ment in South Williamspo­rt, Penn­syl­va­nia.

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