Gambling has been looked at askance in Phenix City, Ala., a town of 25,000 on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River, ever since the governor put the town under martial law in 1954 because of illicit wagering, as well as rampant corruption and prostitution. Yet by doubling down on his dream, 32-year-old Tony Rasmus helped bring a measure of redemption to Phenix City last week at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. After quitting his job as a high school chemistry teacher at the Glenwood School in July to pilot an all-star team of 11-to 13-year-olds, Rasmus racked up $5,000 in credit card debt paying for playoff travel expenses as his club advanced beyond his and its wildest imagination. Last Friday, Phenix City won the U.S. title, coming from behind to knock off defending champion Toms River, N.J., 3-2. But its quest for the world championship ended the next day at the right hand of Kazuki Sumiyama.
The son of a liquor-store owner, Kazuki hurled Osaka to a 5-0 victory, allowing just two hits and striking out nine with a pair of heaters, known to his teammates as the Kazuball and the Thunder-ball. The serene Kazuki, who said he blocked out the crowd of 42,000 by imagining he was "pitching somewhere else," brought Japan its fourth Little League crown and its first since 1976.
While the loss reduced a few Phenix City players to tears, Kazuki's dominance on the mound made their fate easier to accept. Said catcher Cory Rasmus, Tony's 11-year-old son, "I guess people back home are real happy because no team from Phenix City has ever come this far. I'm happy, but we came up a little bit short."