Too much fame way too early

By Brooks Taylor,

Mt. Pleasant News


Imagine having the best day of your life as a 12-year-old and then being ridiculed for it for years afterward.

You probably never heard of Cody Webster. That?s OK, you have plenty of company, unless you live in Washington state.

Webster peaked early, reminiscent of one of my boyhood friends who was 5-10 as an eighth-grader and the best basketball player on the junior high team. By the time he was a junior in high school, he was still 5-10 and had hung up the tennis shoes.

Back to Webster. At age 12, he pitched Kirkland, Wash., to a Little League World Series championship, scissoring Taiwan?s string of 31 consecutive wins in the LLWS and five straight championships.

Not only did Webster blank the Taiwanese, 6-0 (allowing just two hits), he also hit a 280-foot home run, which at that time was the longest ever hit on the diamond at Williamsport, Pa., the site of the LLWS.

Webster wasn?t your typical 12-year-old boy. He stood 5-7 and weighed 175 lbs. An early bloomer, for sure. The kid was as strong as a bull, too. His fastball was clocked at 75 miles-per-hour from the Little League pitching rubber distance from home plate which translates into a 98 mile-per-hour fastball in the Major Leagues. Remember, this was 35 years ago and although many Major League pitchers now can hit 98 on the radar gun, it wasn?t that way in 1982. Flamethrowers were few and far between.

He was a shy kid to boot, which only compounded his future problems. He never sought the national attention he was about to receive, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Following his performance at the LLWS, a photo of him jumping in the air after the last out became the clip used for the ?Thrill of Victory? on ABC?s Wide World of Sports. He was a guest on Good Morning America, threw out the first pitch at a game in Shea Stadium, was invited to the stock market and received a telegram from President Ronald Reagan.

Some 40,000 people welcomed the Kirkland team home from the World Series. Webster, of course, was front and center, not particularly through his own choosing, but because of his right arm and big bat.

In the years following, baseball was not nearly as kind to him. Jealousy and resentment took hold. Although Webster was still a kid playing with his buddies, the crowds grew hostile. He was taunted, spit upon by adults as he entered ballparks with his team and mocked for his size. Tough stuff for a teenager to have to deal with.

?It got to a point where after Little League, the whole baseball thing, it just changed,? Webster said many years later in an interview. ?It went from playing baseball with my buddies, to everybody wanted to beat me. A lot of people wanted to see me fail. I just never understood it.?

The contempt from opposing fans and players led to disinterest for Webster. ?My heart wasn?t in it after about 16,? he said. ?I didn?t care if I ever played anymore. When you walk into a stadium and get spit on, it?s not fun anymore. ... It was totally the Little League World Series that changed it.?

He ended up attending Eastern Washington University, but still could not escape the television cameras. Television crews carried his collegiate baseball debut live.

But Webster never came close to replicating the success he enjoyed as a 12-year-old Little Leaguer. ?I was good when I was 12, I was average when I was 18,? he noted.

Due to a shoulder injury suffered in football, he played just one college season.

That injury, however, was more of a blessing than a curse, Webster reflected. ?It was the perfect excuse to start coaching. I wanted to coach since I was 16.?

Today, he still lives close to Kirkland. He is single and worked for a shipping company before it closed its doors. Now, he owns a baseball academy where he coaches and does personal training. He also coaches a Little League baseball team.

Reluctantly, he named the academy Cody Webster Baseball. ?I?ve always been a private person,? he told the interviewer. ?But I?m not stupid. I know my name is one of the biggest things I have going for me.?

He will always wonder how life would have been without the Little League title. He said it left a strong impression and he learned from it. ?I?m very guarded nowadays with whom I get close to. I don?t trust a lot of people.?

It is sad that something so good could have such negative ramifications, or your best moment in life happens at age 12.

I?m sure most of us have a Cody Webster in our life. His story is one that underscores how fame can be fleeting, so you better enjoy it while you can.