Three little words: “I love you.”
They had never been heard between coach and pitcher on the mound until Joel Jensen, coach of a team from Bend, Ore., uttered the sentence to his pitcher – and son, Isaiah – at the Little League World Series. The moment encapsulated the bond between player and coach – and father and son – that many long for but few attain.
Isaiah had allowed just two hits before walking the first batter in the fifth inning of a consolation game versus Italy. “I forgot the mike was on,” Joel says. “I originally was going out to pull him. But I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t want his last hitter to be someone he walked. He had pitched such a great game that I didn’t want him to have that as his last thought.”
Between the dugout and the mound, he had a change of heart. “I decided to give him one more kid, but I had to tell him something. Then I was thinking this might be the last mound visit I have with him. We’re at Williamsport and achieved our goal, so I’m going to tell him I love him and head back to the dugout.”
So Joel started with: “I just came out to tell you how much I love you, as a dad and a player. You’re doing awesome out here.” For good measure, he added that the next batter would be Isaiah’s last. “Cheer up. Have some fun. Come right after him.”
Gauging Isaiah’s reaction was tough. “He’s an in-the-moment type of person,” Joel says. “I don’t know if he ever hears what I
have to say, but I don’t think he thought it was as big a deal as it’s become.” Joel also says he probably would have delivered the same message to any of his players. “We’ve spent so much time together as a group, it feels like we’re all family.”
He remained relatively unaware of the impact of his comments until the team returned to Bend. The hectic schedule in Williamsport didn’t allow for anything other than baseball, and Joel is a bit technologically challenged.
“A lot of people that wanted to interview me tried to contact me through Messenger. I didn’t have Messenger installed,” he says. “About a week after I got home, a friend invited me to Messenger, and up popped 100 or so messages from reporters, asking me to call them.” Joel turned down all but three requests: One from a man at his church, another from the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, a third from the Musials. Kershaw, by the way, sent Isaiah a hat and autographed baseball, in return for a ball autographed by Isaiah, whose reaction to winning a Musial was, “Really? Just for that?”
“I guess I’m not surprised at the interest in the story because there’s so much negative news,” Joel says. “I think people are starving for a bright light from sports.”