It was chaos as Tom Bradley rushed against the clock to ensure his team stayed at the facility. The Media coach just had his team eliminated from the Little League World Series (LLWS) by Rhode Island. Sullen and sniffling, the players filed dejected onto the team bus.
Amid the pandemonium, Bradley raced after his team, they all needed to get off the vehicle before it was too late. He succeeded in getting the kids out before Little League officials hurried him away for a post-game press conference. Of the 20,000 fans in attendance that day who witnessed Media’s 7-2 defeat, one stood out above the others, one whose name you probably recognize.
With only moments to spare, the kids stood inside the stadium garage, waiting for Bryce Harper.
Three months earlier, Media Little League was a fundamentally different team. They were a healthy group, unburdened by the injuries that would later befall their World Series run. No one knew the names of team heroes like Trevor Skowronek or Austin Crowley. Ace pitcher and infielder Chase D’Ambrosio was still months away from breaking his arm while assistant coach Tommy Bradley, the son of Tom Bradley, still had his job at Amazon.
Over a fateful summer traveling up and down the East Coast, all of that would change, but for now, Tom Bradley’s boys did wrist rollers, practiced hitting golf balls with broom handles and played focused games to increase their understanding of baseball.
“They don’t even know they’re learning, but they’re learning stuff,” Bradley says.
Taking the information learned from the Bradleys, Media Little League surged past their competition. The local Little League had not found itself in a state tournament since 2009, and hadn’t won it since 1957.
By late-July Media had overcome its Pennsylvania rivals and lifted the state banner. The final challenge before heading to the LLWS was Washington D.C. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh (Little League games go to extras after six innings), the score was deadlocked at zero. Media had yet to record a hit as Skowronek strolled to the plate. His two-run home run sent Delco and the Media team into raptures.
After spending much of the summer away from their families and friends, playing baseball against the best competition their age bracket has to offer, the Media players reached the promised land. Skowronek crossed home plate with his arms raised as the ballclub rushed to mob their hero.
Congrats to Media, PA for advancing to the Little League World Series!
What a magical week of baseball in the Delaware Valley. pic.twitter.com/rw6BSVvB2u
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) August 12, 2023
Joining the celebration was 21-year-old Tommy Bradley, who might not have been there at all if not for a promise he made to his team months ago.
Bradley was tired of baseball as a college student. Offered a spot on his college team at Penn State Brandywine, he declined. He had lost his senior year on the baseball team at Bonner-Prendergast due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was sick of the traveling, the work ethic and the grind that came with the game. It just wasn’t fun anymore.
“It was a frustrating time for everybody. He was the same way. He was just frustrated,” Tom Bradley recalls about his son.
Not many 21-year-olds end up burnt out with the game they love, but then again, not many 21-year-olds end up traveling the U.S. with their dad and a bunch of 12- to 14-year-olds. Thus, after finishing college and taking a two-month leave of absence from his job, Tommy Bradley joined Media Little League as a pitching coach.
By the time Skowronek hit his walk-off home run, the younger Bradley had quit that job. After Amazon found out that his leave of absence didn’t fall under their idea of “volunteer work”—even though he wasn’t being paid—they gave him the option to quit or leave the Media team. For Tommy, the choice was easy.
Though he quit his own baseball career, he wasn’t going to quit on Media. After ending up on a national stage, Tommy has received more job opportunities in the last several weeks than most college graduates receive in their first year out of school.
“‘I gave these kids my word. I told them I would be there,’” his dad remembers Tommy saying.
Then it all came together. One of 20 teams at the LLWS, Media was down to the final stage. Watch parties took place all across Delco as Southeastern Pennsylvania came out to support their boys.
Media lost the first game against Texas, but rallied past Maine in the losers bracket to reach a third game against Rhode Island. That evening, the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals were scheduled to play the Little League Classic in Williamsport, the site of the LLWS.
As the tension reached a boiling point late in the game against Rhode Island, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and the rest of the Phillies squad filed into the stadium. Between those three men are $709 million dollars in guaranteed contracts. Not only are they beloved as folk heroes in a blue-collar city, but they also represent the commercialization of a game developed in school yards and played on street corners by kids looking to escape coal mines and factories in the mid-19th century.
Harper, the $330 million dollar man, seemed to recognize that significance in the bottom of the fifth inning when first baseman Nathan Hellberg tied up the ballgame in front of 20,000 screaming fans.
Bryce Harper said he has goosebumps watching Media play at the LLWS.
BUILD THE STATUE!pic.twitter.com/RHYn3PMMtW
— Barstool Philly (@BarstoolPhilly) August 20, 2023
Media fell in the final inning by a score of 7-2. Harper, who stayed in his seat the whole game after many others had left, made his way down to the stadium garage. There the Media team waited, exhausted after a summer of travel and injuries. Just about every player had faced some form of adversity over the long season, but none of them had wanted it to end the way it did.
“‘I know how you feel,’” Tom Bradley recalls what Harper had told the kids. “‘This is how we felt after the World Series.’”
Nine and a half months after Philadelphia lost the World Series, Harper and the Phillies are surging. Though most of the kids who reached the LLWS won’t make it back next year no matter the circumstances due to their age, they all have bright careers ahead of them, and were ultimately invited to Citizens Bank Park by Harper and Nick Castellanos themselves for a game later this season.
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Despite falling to Rhode Island, they got an opportunity no other Little League team has ever received. Most kids from Philadelphia go to the ballpark to watch the Phillies, but this time the Phillies came to the ballpark to see them.
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