All American Game : : Story
'Mr. Baseball' is headed to Aflac Classic
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Marcus Littlewood knew he'd get some good-natured ribbing from his teammates. When you win an award that crowns you "Mr. Baseball" of an entire state, there's bound to be a few comments at the ballpark.
"Yeah, I got a lot of crap for that," said Littlewood, laughing. "It's in one ear and out the other. I try to ignore it, but it's fun."
Littlewood is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound shortstop from Pine View High School in St. George, Utah. He hit .531 this season as a junior with 25 extra-base hits in Utah's abbreviated 22-game high school season. He also compiled a 2-1 record and 1.53 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.
That's why the Deseret News named him "Mr. Baseball" for the state of Utah for 2009.
"It was a great award," he said. "Being recognized as the state's best player, I mean, what more could you ask for? There are a lot of great players."
Littlewood received another top honor this year when he was selected for the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, to be played Aug. 16 at PETCO Park in San Diego. "I'm excited," he said. "I get to play with the 40 best guys in the country. Being recognized as an Aflac All-American is awesome."
Littlewood grew up at a ballpark. His father, Mike Littlewood, is the head coach at Dixie State College, which won the Junior College World Series in 2004. Mike also has been the head coach of an independent pro team in St. George and was a high school coach, so Marcus has been hanging around dugouts since he was barely old enough to walk.
Mike Littlewood remembers Marcus sitting attentively at the ballpark, watching a pitcher warm up, as though he was studying every move. Mike figures Marcus was 2 or 3 years old at the time. When he was 5 or 6, the family has pictures of him studying the game at a College World Series.
"He's kind of leaning over the railing and just observing," said Mike. "That's the way he's always been, an observer."
When Mike coached the St. George Pioneers in an independent pro league, Marcus would tag along and practice with the older guys. "He'd get one of those players and get them to roll him ground ball after ground ball," said Mike. "He'd go from one player to the next and the next. And when the players were done, he'd throw the ball against a brick wall."
Dixie State College is about two minutes from the Littlewoods' home in St. George, so it was easy for Marcus to drop by. "It was incredible," he said. "Not a lot of players get that opportunity to grow up around the game. I was kind of born in the dugout."
Marcus described himself as a "field rat," the baseball equivalent of a gym rat. He was a batboy for the St. George Pioneers, absorbing everything there was to see and learn. "I was always in the dugout, ever since I can remember," he said.
Mike Littlewood had a hunch Marcus would be a good ballplayer. "He was probably 5 years old and playing T-Ball," Mike said. "He would throw the ball so hard that the catcher ended up hiding behind the screen."
Marcus helped the Team USA 16U ballclub win the gold medal at an international tournament in Mexico last fall, highlighted by victories over Cuba and the host Mexicans. Team USA beat Mexico for the title.
"It was a great experience," he said. "That (beating Mexico) and the Cuba game were the greatest baseball experiences I've ever had in my life. Just thousands of people chanting 'Cuba,' chanting 'Mexico,' everyone against Team USA. It was a great experience. Not many players get the chance to play internationally."
Marcus has committed to playing college baseball at the University of San Diego. Mike Littlewood works as a college basketball official in addition to his baseball duties at Dixie State, and he took Marcus on a series of trips to Pac-10 schools when he was calling their games. Marcus studied the Pac-10 colleges but felt most comfortable at San Diego.
"It's hard to turn down 75 to 80 degrees all year long, a great school, great campus," Marcus said. "It's a great opportunity, I think, for any baseball player. I mean, what more can you ask for?"
Mr. Baseball is on his way to San Diego, first for the Aflac Classic and then college.