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Baseball: Still friends – From Little League World Series to a Super Regional

Trey Labat, The Advertiser, June 5, 2015


A very small percentage of youth baseball players make it to the college level. A smaller number get the chance to play in an NCAA Super Regional Tournament.

So the chances that three players all from the same Little League team would be playing for the chance to go to Omaha this weekend are incalculably slim.

Oh, and that Little League team went to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

"I mean what are the chances of three players from a Lafayette Little League team playing for a Super Regional this weekend?" said Mike Conrad, father to Jace and Brenn Conrad and the coach for that 2005 team.

VIDEO: LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson talks about the 2005 Lafayette Little League team that went to the Little League World Series. Glenn Guilbeau, Gannett Louisiana

But that’s where we are this weekend, as University of Louisiana at Lafayette players Connor Toups and Brenn Conrad will be reunited with their old teammate, LSU’s Andrew Stevenson.

Former Ragin’ Cajuns’ star Jace Conrad, Brenn’s brother, was also on the team and said he was amazed the two teams get the chance to meet at this stage in the season.

"It’s crazy.

"It goes to show that you can tell the good players from the ones that won’t make it," Jace said. "Because I think if you look back, you can tell (then) all the guys from that team are gonna be successful. And most of them are, whether it was school or just sports."

Stevenson said as kids they dreamed of playing college baseball, but being that young never knew what could happen with their careers.

Even a bunch of kids couldn’t have dreamed this weekend up, though.

"It’s something you dream about at that age, but you don’t know what could happen," Stevenson said. "So luckily we’ve all grown as baseball players and we get the chance to play in this game together."

Brenn Conrad said the taste of success at a young age motivated all of the players to work on their games, wanting to feel that type of experience again.

Brenn Conrad little

Lafayette’s Brenn Conrad watches as a ball flies past him while at bat during the team’s win against New England at Volunteer Field at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport, Pa. (Photo: File Photo, The Advertiser)

"Whenever you’re 11 or 12 years old, you’re just playing for fun, we didn’t know what was going to come later on in life," Conrad said. "Just being able to play on that Little League team gave us this edge like hey we’re pretty good, we should work at this. After that all of our goals were to go play college ball."

Conrad said the preparation for this week’s super regional has the three reminiscing of their World Series run and reliving some of their memories

Despite happening at such a young age, Stevenson said it was the best moment of his life up to this point.

"Till now that was one of the best experiences of my life, going to Williamsport and playing with the guys I grew up with," Stevenson said. "Now it’s going to be a little different with those guys in the opposite dugout, though."

Every time we’re with each other we talk about what we did and how special it was," Toups said.

How the Little League experience has helped

In 2005, the team traveled to Williamsport and advanced all the way to the national semifinals before being eliminated by Hawaii.

In the first two games, the Lafayette squad was forced to come from behind to advance, something that should sound eerily familiar to Cajun fans after the Houston Regional experience.

Toups said the early experience taught him to never give up, to never quit, and it’s something that has stuck with him through his entire life.

"The first two games of the World Series we came back to win, kind of like we’ve been doing here the last couple of games," Toups said. "We were down a few runs in both those (Little League) games and we just never quit and we came back and won."

The experience also taught the three how to handle big crowds at a young age, a crucial skill this weekend under the magnifying glass of a raucous Alex Box Stadium crowd. Standing-room tickets sold out within five minutes of going on sale Friday morning, and second-market prices have soared into the hundreds of dollars.

Stevenson said it was one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of his life.

"I was really nervous, I was 11 years old and playing on national TV," Stevenson laughed. "Playing in front of a big crowd like that at such a young age, it kind of lets you know what it’s all about and I think that has helped."

Conrad said the lead up to the game has been similar, with a palpable level of excitement in the air amidst both sets of fan bases.

"It’s just the hype, playing against good competition in a big game, playing on ESPN again and all that kind of stuff just brings back good memories," Conrad said. "I remember those Little League days like they were yesterday."

Relationships that last a lifetime

The close relationship developed between the three has only enhanced their excitement for this weekend.

Stevenson said when he’s not playing, he roots for the Cajuns, and you can’t blame him after having played his high school baseball a mere 6.5 miles from the Tigue.

Between the chance to play against longtime friends, a ticket to Omaha and local bragging rights, a lot is at stake.

"We’ve grown up playing with each other and against each other, so it’s going to be a great experience, especially since it’s such a close rivalry," Toups said. "It’s going to be a fun atmosphere, definitely going to be fun to play (Stevenson) and I’m just really excited about it."

Conrad, Stevenson and Toups were the youngest players on the Little League roster, and with Conrad’s dad being the head coach, they became extremely close during their Williamsport run.

Mike Conrad said both Brenn and Toups went to elementary school together, and while Stevenson went to a different school, the three maintained a close relationship.

It’s a friendship maintained today.

"I actually texted Andrew the other day just to see how everything was going and tell him I was looking forward to playing him," Conrad said. "Andrew was one of my really good friends growing up and we maintain that relationship today. Whenever I see him we have a really good time together."

Stevenson said the two were some of the smallest players on the team, one of the reasons why the speedy centerfielder played one of the most sedentary positions on the baseball diamond.

"I actually played first base believe it or not," Stevenson laughed. (Tulane safety and fellow St. Thomas More alum) Sam Scofield played center field. He had a couple of inches on me back then."

No matter the result this weekend, the three former teammates will have forged another memory to last a lifetime.

And while one team’s season will end, the friends will get the chance to watch an old teammate play in another kind of World Series.

"Regardless of what happens, once of us is going to be in Omaha and that’s just really exciting," Toups said.

"I think it’s going to be a really special weekend win or lose," Conrad said.