Mookie Betts has been on a tear this postseason, hitting an impressive .308 with six doubles, a home run, six RBI and four steals for the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Outside of perhaps Mike Trout (whose only postseason hit came over six years ago), the 28-year-old outfielder and recent Gold Glove finalist might be the most complete player in Major League Baseball. But back in his native Nashville, Little League coaches just weren’t seeing it.
“Little bitty kid with little legs,” said Betts’ mother Diana Collins in a Los Angeles Times profile penned by Jorge Castillo. Collins tried to pitch her son to local Little League teams but couldn’t find any takers. One coach famously rejected Mookie on the basis of his size—or lack thereof—claiming he wanted to field a competitive roster with larger, more athletic players.
“I’m not going to be able to play,” a dejected Betts told his mother with tears streaming down his face. Little did five-year-old Mookie know that Collins had a trick up her sleeve. Collins formed her own team, gathering a group of misfit players nobody else wanted. They didn’t do much winning. In fact, Mookie’s team that year won just a single game. Fittingly, that lone victory came against the coach who heartlessly rejected him for being too small.
“I told Mookie, ‘Today’s going to be a little different because we were playing this one team,’” recalls Collins. “‘Every ball that comes, I want you to get it and get an out. I don’t care where the ball is.’” And that’s exactly what Betts did, putting on a relentless display against his new Nashville nemesis.
“He was running into right field and chasing the guy home. So the coach said, ‘You’re not teaching him right!’” said Collins who, in addition to serving as Mookie’s first baseball coach, also gave Betts his passion for bowling. “And I said, ‘I’m teaching him how to win. That’s what you wanted to do, right? That’s what you wanted to do. You made sure you told me you wanted to win, so I’m teaching Mookie how to win.’”
We’ve seen what athletes can do with a chip on their shoulder—just ask forgotten sixth-round pick Tom Brady or Michael Jordan, who was relegated to JV status as a sophomore at Laney High School. Even as a puny five-year-old in the Music City, Betts wouldn’t bow down to anyone, so why would he start now?