When Houston’s Post Oak Little League claimed a 2-0 victory over Port Neches-Groves in last weekend’s Texas East State Little League Baseball Championship, leftfielder Justin Michaelis didn’t think, “Cool, we’re going to the regional championships!”
Well, he did think that. But not right away. His first thought was more like, “Sweet, we’re going to Waco!”
No, he didn’t want to visit Magnolia that badly. But Waco is kind of a home away from home for Michaelis.
“It’s very fun. It’s my mom’s and dad’s hometown,” said 11-year-old Justin, who will turn 12 later this month.
Indeed, both of Justin’s parents grew up in Waco. His mother Shannon is the daughter of Kathy and Steve “Snuffy” Smith, who worked for many years as the director of sports and special events at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. His father Derek is the son of longtime Wacoans Tom and Mary Beth Michaelis, and Derek was a multi-sport letterwinner at Midway who won Tribune-Herald Super Centex Athlete of the Year honors in 1996-97.
As Derek stood at the foot of the Waco Suspension Bridge on Wednesday evening to watch the Post Oak team participate in the Southwest Region’s opening ceremonies, he admitted to being tickled at Justin’s summer to remember.
“It’s the best. It’s way better than doing it yourself, in a lot of ways,” Derek said. “For sure, you can’t help (but live vicariously). I played sports before, and it’s just fun to watch your kids accomplish something.
“It’s why we stuck with Little League rather than going to the tournament ball thing. Which we’ve done that, too. But I played Little League, and the all-star thing is just special. Because there’s something to shoot for. It’s not just show up for the weekend, play your tournament, go do it again the next weekend. This is actually a real goal.”
It’s also a chance to write a new chapter of history for Post Oak, which has never reached this stage of the Little League postseason. Post Oak won state titles at the 11-year-old level in 2008 and 2013, but never at the Little League level, which encompasses 11 and 12-year-olds.
Mostly, because Post Oak always found itself matched up against Pearland, a perennial youth baseball power that made World Series appearances three straight years from 2013-15.
“Last year we lost in sectionals to Pearland, and I feel like that was because of injuries,” said Justin, who starts in left field for Post Oak. “So we promised to beat them and make it here, and now we want to go to the Little League World Series.”
Post Oak finally vanquished Pearland at this year’s sectional tournament, and went on to claim the state title in Tyler. Fun fact there – Shannon Michaelis’ mom’s side of the family lives in Tyler, so it’s just been one familiar stop after another for the Michaelis clan.
“We for sure knew the road,” said Derek, who played six years of minor league baseball before wrapping up his playing days after the 2005 season. “We knew we would have family both ways.”
All that family will be whooping and hollering from the stands starting Thursday, when Post Oak, representing Texas East, faces Arkansas at 9 p.m. Naturally, they wouldn’t mind extending their summer baseball watching all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“(Justin) is ecstatic. He’s ready get going,” Derek said.
Other Thursday first-round games of the double-elimination event feature Louisiana vs. Brownsville (Texas West) at 11 a.m., Oklahoma vs. New Mexico at 2 p.m., and Colorado vs. Mississippi at 6 p.m.
The tournament continues daily until the championship game, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Aug. 8.