2002 champs from Georgia were memorable and polite
By Dave Gorgon
Special to The News-Herald
Being from the South and being polite often go hand in hand. So, Ann Benson wasn’t surprised to learn that the Cartersville, Georgia, boys who won the 2002 Junior League World Series in Taylor were among the most polite group of baseball players in tournament history.
Any time the players appeared in public, they answered questions with “yes sir” and “no ma’am.”
Benson, assistant manager at the Quality Inn and Suites in Cartersville, said the 13- and 14-year-old boys were influenced by their team manager, Danny Gilreath.
“A lot of it has to be attributed to him,” Benson said. “I’m sure he emphasized that. I’m sure he expected it of them. Danny is a fantastic leader. If I had a child, I would want my child to be involved with him. I think he would make an impact in a very positive way.”
The Gilreath family is well known in Cartersville – a city of about 16,000 people located north of Atlanta – and vicinity. According to Century Bank of Bartow County President Sam C. Smith, Cartersville is part of the “carpet capital of the world.” Gilreath owns Gilreath Carpet Inc., one of the best known companies in the region.
Further, Gilreath’s wife, Malinda, is the daughter of the late County Commissioner Frank Moore. Following Mr. Moore’s death, the county courthouse was named in his honor.
“Danny is kind of an icon in town,” said Smith, who was Cartersville mayor from 1998 to 2001. “He has an open personality. He never gets down. You probably didn’t hear a negative word out of him. He’s one of those rare people God put on this earth that nothing seems to bother. He’s one of the good guys – one of the good old Southern guys.”
Benson said Gilreath “is part of a very Christian family.”
“He is just a really good man – a really good man,” she said. “He does a lot for his community and a lot for the people he knows.”
Guiding his team to the 2002 Junior League World Series in Taylor added plenty to Gilreath’s standing. From the time Gilreath and his coaches put the all-star team together to the time they won the world championship, they were a perfect 18-0.
Along the way, the boys won the Georgia state championship, earned the United States Southern Regional title by defeating state champions from Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida (twice) and went a record 6-0 in the World Series.
Not that the entire run was easy. In Taylor, Cartersville nipped Pennsylvania by just a run, 4-3; scored nine runs in the sixth inning for a come-from-behind 19-12 over California to win the United States championship and then won the world championship with a stunning extra-inning 3-2 victory over David, Chriqui, Panama. The final game was played on Gilreath’s 43rd birthday.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in the world,” said Gilreath moments after receiving the championship trophy. “This is unreal… To win the whole thing was unimaginable. The quality of baseball here was unreal. To beat a great California team and then come back and beat Panama the next day was a real accomplishment.”
In the series, Cartersville outscored their opponents, 48-22. Gilreath’s son, Tyler (.450), and Barrett Napps (.478) led the team in hitting.
When the players, coaches, families and supporters, they were greeted by a throng of 1,000 locals at Cartersville High School. Smith, who made the trip to Taylor, had phoned ahead. News of the world championship and the surprise celebration spread by word of mouth and over a local radio station.
In the days to come, the team received a key to the city and proclamations from current Mayor Mike Fields and the Bartow County Commission.
Looking back, Gilreath calls the World Series “the time of my life.”
“We had no idea we would even win the state tournament let alone the regional and all the rest,” he said. “Getting there and the reception we had in Taylor was phenomenal. We were met at the airport, taken to the park, fitted for uniforms and basically treated like a professional team.
“I was overwhelmed with the complete volunteer effort. The year I was there you’re consumed with all of the activities and coaching. You don’t have a chance to sit back and look at the organization and see what it’s all about. I’ve been back twice as a spectator and it’s mindblowing to see what it takes to run that tournament. If I didn’t live in Cartersville, I would want to move to Taylor, Michigan. I plan to return this year.”
The city of Cartersville has had its share of fame when it comes to sports. The late Rudy York, whose 13-year Major League career included 10 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, was from Cartersville.
Will Startup, Josh Morris and Ronnie Brown are all products of the Cartersville Little League who have gone on to further success in sports. Startup and Morris played last year on the University of Georgia baseball team and both have been drafted by pro teams. Startup debuted recently as a relief pitcher with the Rome Braves, Class A affiliate of Atlanta. Brown is the talk of the town since he was drafted second overall out of Auburn by the Miami Dolphins football team.
Cartersville High School has won three state championships in the last five years. The young 2005 team – which included six players from the Junior League world champions – made it to the final eight of the state tournament, but most of the players will return and there are high hopes for a state title run in 2006.
Tyler Gilreath, who plays third base and hit .464 in 2005, led the high school team and county in batting for the second straight year. He will be a senior next year. Benji Farr, who earned the victory in the in the world title game, was the ace of the prep staff as a sophomore. World Series alums Scotty Morris, Seth Mauldin, Michael Castleberry and Cody Nix also were members of the high school team.
Danny Gilreath – who said all of the boys continue to be well-mannered – is no longer coaching, but he still volunteers by maintaining the high school baseball field. He doesn’t miss any of Tyler’s games. When he goes, there are often questions about the World Series.
“It does hold a special spot,” He said. “When our local newspaper does an article about our high school team, they mention if a player was part of the Junior League championship team. They talk about it all the time in the local leagues. They hope to duplicate what our team did.
“Even now, people come up to me and want to know about it and what it was like. It’s not like celebrity status, but when you go to the Little League field to watch the 12-year-olds play, there might be half a dozen people that come up and say, “Weren’t you the coach of the World Series team?’ I will cherish those memories forever.”
In Taylor, the Cartersville team left a great impression and left town as world champions.