WESTPORT, Conn. – Tom Whelan got one of the first looks at the Westport Little League All-Stars when they were in first grade. The same players that chased the ice cream truck in those early years are now playing in the Little League World Series beginning Thursday in Williamsport, Pa.
“In first grade, it’s nine coaches and 12 players,’’ said Whelan, who has been commissioner of first grade baseball in Westport since 2007 and is now a member of manager Tim Rogers’ staff. “You just hope they want to stay in the program. It’s tough to predict the future. Back in first grade, it’s more about who’s going to get ice cream at the end of the day.”
Whelan provides an interesting perspective for Westport’s program. He has been a volunteer since 2003, and his two sons, Ross and Connor, played in the program. He has managed or assisted on teams that played in District 2 tournaments for eight straight summers. He is one of several long-tenured members of the Westport Little League board.
“Every year my wife asks me about what we’re going to do for summer vacation, and every year I told her we could be going to Williamsport for the World Series,’’ he said. "It was kind of like crying wolf. This year, it came to fruition.”
Whelan, an accountant whose business is based in Darien, joined the team in June. He was part of the selection committee that helped choose the 11-player roster. Many of the boys played on the 10-year-old team that lost in the Section 1 championship, and the 11-year-old team that did not make it out of the district tournament last year.
“The Little League administration really wants us to get going in the right direction, and I think this is going to help,’’ Whelan said. “When Trumbull won in 1989, people told me they had people move to town just because they wanted to be part of the program. I think the way Tim has run the program might be a model that the board should look at. Everything from pitch count, to practice sessions, to AAU teams in the spring and fall. This has been developing since these kids were 9 or 10.”
Westport’s summer run has been remarkable. The team is 18-0 against the best teams in Connecticut and New England. They have trailed in only a few games. They eliminated teams that denied them in past years, Edgewood in 2011 and Fairfield National in 2012.
Whelan, a former college basketball and lacrosse player, is also an assistant on the Staples High School teams in those sports. He has been involved in athletics his whole life, but nothing compares to this summer's magic. In Saturday’s New England championship game, more than 6,000 fans crammed Breen Field in Bristol to watch Westport’s dramatic 1-0 win.
“A lot of folks couldn’t believe Westport could ever get this far,’’ Whelan said. “People thought we didn’t have the horses. I don’t think there was anything except for Tim’s team as 10-year-olds that could even move to another level. It’s exciting for the town, and being on the board and coaching, it’s something that is kind of surreal. We finished our game at 9 on Saturday night and the next morning we were leaving for Williamsport. It’s all great stuff. It’s something you’ll never forget.”