As a parent, you always try to provide your children with the best that you can and help guide them through their life’s journey. Allie Littell has been there every step of the way as her son, New York Yankees prospect, Zack Littell, makes his way through the minor leagues. We had the opportunity to interview Allie Littell about her experiences as the mother of a minor league baseball player.
Zack Littell was drafted out of high school as a 17-year-old senior, out of Eastern Alamance High School, located in Mebane, North Carolina. Being drafted is the continuance of a dream and with it came a tsunami of emotions, altering the course that Allie expected Zack to follow.
“Honestly, I think we were both in a little bit of shock initially. As a parent, I had spent the last 13 years of his academic life setting up the expectation that college would be after high school, how important it was, and how it was just the next step. When the likelihood of the draft occurred, just weeks before graduation, we had a lot to process, and a lot to learn (amidst Senior Proms, Senior Projects, High School Baseball Playoffs, etc). Even at that point, some part of me just didn’t believe it might happen, which left me in a position of even more surprise when it actually did.
Then there was the whirlwind. He graduated on a Friday evening, the evening of day 1 of the draft. All seniors were not allowed access to their cell phones during the ceremony. Zack had been given permission to keep his, hand it to a teacher on one side of the stage, receive his diploma, and meet that same teacher on the other side of the stage to get it back. During the ceremony, his phone rang 4-5 times, with calls from scouts or agents. It was very stressful for us all. Now we laugh, but one of those phone calls (came) from a scout during the ceremony. Zack had to interrupt and whisper, “I’m sorry, I’m at my graduation,” and the scout said, “My bad, go get your diploma.” He was drafted the next day, Saturday, and we flew to Seattle on Tuesday to sign, and he went straight to Arizona from there. At that point, I think it had all happened so fast, that I don’t think either one of us had time to feel much and no time to let it really sink in.”
While the winds of change were blowing through the Littell’s lives, she would provide her son with clarity and perspective to get through the signing process with the Mariners.
“When things got stressful, which they did, the night of his graduation and the following day, between graduation, his phone ringing constantly, and truly NOT knowing what he was going to do at any given moment. He and I had one quiet moment in his room when we had just gotten home from graduation late Friday night. He admitted he didn’t know what to do, or what the right thing to do was and he didn’t want to make the wrong decision. Scouts were calling and asking if he would accept if they drafted in xx round for xx dollars and it had become quickly overwhelming. I said to him, “Zack, take the money off of the table, this isn’t about money. It’s about what YOU want to do. Don’t even think about the money. What do YOU want to do, what does your HEART say?” He looked right at me and said, “I want to play baseball”. I said, “So there is your decision, let’s do this. If that’s what your heart says, then it’s what you need to do. No matter how this turns if you do your best and give it your best shot, when it’s over, you won’t have regret. You won’t wonder what would have happened IF you had tried it. If that’s where your heart is and you don’t try it, you will always wonder “what if”, and I don’t want that for you.”
That moment gave us both some peace with the decision that we both needed. I’ll never forget that moment, it was as meaningful and important to me as the moment they called his name.”
Watching her son leave and pursue his opportunity to play professional baseball wasn’t easy and brought many feelings to the surface.
“Well, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t walk away from my 17-year-old son in the Seattle airport, with him headed to one terminal and a flight to Phoenix, and I headed to another and on a flight home without him, sobbing. We’re close, we always have been. He was 17 years old, three days out of high school, and had rarely spent more than a few nights at a time away from home, and even that (was) usually with other family members. He was heading to chase his dream, but into a world of the unknown, and without the support system he’d always known. I was terrified. I’m sure he was too.”
Being a prospect in the minor leagues means assignments anywhere in the country. That can create many logistical issues for family members, luckily, one of his assignments was to home with the former Pulaski Mariners.
“For me, the first adjustment was to not being able to be his biggest fan. I don’t know that I missed more than a couple of games or events in his entire life (yes, I’m THAT mom, lol). All of a sudden, he was doing the biggest thing he had ever done, and I couldn’t be there to see it. I did go to Phoenix a couple of times that first Summer, but it was quite an adjustment from having full access to his games and events. Luckily, his first assignment was for the Pulaski Mariners in Pulaski, VA, just less than three hours from home. So, that first Summer, his girlfriend and I were able to make EVERY single start of his, usually with a car or two full of other family members and friends. It was a good transition that for us, and for him, to not be totally disconnected.
The minor leagues aren’t for the faint of heart. It’s a long, grueling schedule and contrary to popular belief the players aren’t staying in five-star hotels and eating at exclusive restaurants. Seeing the reality of the lifestyle, Littell did what any mother would do and helped.
“When he arrived in Clinton, IA last year, he showed up with a suitcase of his clothes, his equipment and that’s all. He moved into the living room and slept on the floor in an apartment with a handful of other players on the team. So, that translates into no bed, no towels, no dishes, and no car. I immediately ordered him an air mattress and some towels online and arranged to go as soon as possible and take him his car. I also reached out to our community and asked if anyone had extra sheets, blankets, towels, pots, and pans, etc to donate (as we found that many players didn’t have those basics or a way to get them).
We had a large response and we took two large cars FULL of stuff to distribute to several apartments of players. When I arrived, I was shocked at how little they all had, and how much they needed. We hit a lot of thrift stores and Goodwill stores and got the basics, but it’s hard to see your child go without, and to realize how little many MiLB players have.
Sadly, when they get moved, that stuff usually has to stay, and then you start all over again at the next stop. In Iowa, Zack spoke to the team Chaplain, and his church agreed to store the items after the season to distribute to players coming in the next season. This season, when he moved to Bakersfield from Iowa mid-season, we had just a few hours notice. Zack gave what he could to other players, stored what he could in his car (which we had to go to Iowa and pick up), and landed in Bakersfield in the same manner. No bed, no towels, no car.
At this point, Zack was still 20, so he couldn’t rent a car, (and) he couldn’t sign for a hotel room. The first night, I made about 10-12 calls before I found a hotel that would allow me to book and pay for the room, allow him to check in and hopefully get a good night’s sleep. He was scheduled to make his first start the next day. The good news is, that it gave me another reason to go see him. We did all of those things again and got him settled on an air mattress, in a living room with a handful of other players (and I got to be there for that first start). People don’t realize that’s truly how most of them live. Honestly, I think it probably is more upsetting to the parents than the players. Zack has handled it very well at each juncture. But moms are still moms, and we worry.”
As a parent, you take great pride in your children, their accomplishments and how they conduct themselves. Littell takes great pride in the traits that her son has shown as a professional.
“That he continues to still be who he is. That he remains grateful for the opportunity that he’s been given, that he doesn’t take it for granted, that he remains humble and grounded, and that he’s committed to giving it 100%.”
Baseball has a way of throwing players and their families a curveball from time-to-time. The Littell family received theirs on November 18 when the Mariners traded him to the New York Yankees.
“That was another whirlwind night. It was an absolute complete surprise to us both. His younger brother was in the first round of high school football playoffs that night, and we were eating at the same local pizza place we eat before every home football game. Zack stepped out to take a call while we were finishing up. I didn’t think a thing about it. When I got into the car, he was still on the phone and when he hung up, he looked absolutely shocked. He said, “I’ve been traded to the Yankees.” I don’t think we knew what to say or how to feel, to be honest. But it sunk in fairly quickly. Truthfully, my first thought [was] HE WILL BE ON THE EAST COAST! SAME TIME ZONE! DRIVING DISTANCE! Zack made the decision not to tell anyone until after his brother’s playoff game. He didn’t want to take away from his evening. That night we celebrated his brother’s win, and the next day, we celebrated Zack’s news.”
Allie Littell has watched her son grow as a professional baseball player and as a man, with her support every step of the way. We want to thank Allie for taking time out of her schedule and for sharing her story.
*Photo courtesy of Allie Littell.