Byline: Bill Doyle
WORCESTER - Ten years after he managed the Jesse Burkett Little League All-Stars to the U.S. championship game in Williamsport, Pa., on national television, Fran Granger umpired games in the league this season.
But he was not a celebrity.
"A lot of people," the 63-year-old retired construction worker admitted, "don't even know who I am. It was so long ago. A lot of these kids weren't even born."
Many of the parents don't know him as the league's most successful all-star manager either, but most of the current Burkett managers do.
"So if I ever make a mistake while umpiring, I never get any hassle from them," he said. "I would have loved to still coach, but it was to time let the younger dads coach."
Except for taking 2004 off, Granger managed in Burkett until 2010 before turning to umpiring.
Granger managed 13 11- and 12-year-old boys from the west side of Worcester to the 2002 Little League district, state and New England championships, then all the way to the U.S. championship game, where they lost to Louisville, Ky., in Williamsport. They surprised everyone - especially themselves. Reserve Micah Golshirazian remembers asking pitcher-first baseman Frank Flynn before the team's first practice if he thought they had any chance of making it to the World Series.
"We both blew off the notion pretty quickly as we didn't think it was realistic," Golshirazian recalled via email. "Little did we know that we were less than two months away from playing in Williamsport."
Ten years later, only four of those 13 All-Stars still play organized baseball and just one still has aspirations of playing professional baseball. Left-hander Keith Landers, who rotated between pitcher and first base for Burkett with righty Flynn, hopes to pitch well enough for a college team this year to sign with a pro team next summer. Landers hasn't pitched in college since his freshman year at the University of Louisville, three years ago.
He's undergone two surgeries on his pitching shoulder, but pitched a few games for Shrewsbury in the Central New England Baseball Association this summer and he's working out at the Greendale YMCA and Cressey Performance in Hudson. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Landers plans to transfer to a different college in the fall, but he hasn't picked one yet.
Andy Fallon, Burkett's starting third baseman in 2002, plays second for Ronnie's in the CNEBA. Joe Petry, who played second base for Burkett, will start at shortstop at Coast Guard Academy next spring for the fourth consecutive year. Kurt Sabacinski, a reserve third baseman in 2002, plays first base and catches for Worcester State, where he'll be a senior in the fall.
Landers still enjoys watching videos of Burkett in the World Series.
"Even if I went to a Major League World Series," he said, "I don't think it would be as much fun as the Little League World Series. That was the most fun I've ever had with the greatest friends I ever had. I miss all those guys."
"When we were at Williamsport," Granger said, "I bet there wasn't any other team that practiced less than we did. We had already practiced all year long. I let the kids have fun. They went out with their parents every day, they went sightseeing. If you're having fun, you're going to play better."
Flynn and Landers helped St. Peter-Marian win the Central Mass. Division 1 baseball championship their senior years in 2008. While Landers headed to Louisville, Flynn remained in Worcester to pitch for Assumption. With two weeks left in his senior season last spring, Flynn tore a ligament in his pitching elbow. He decided to end his playing career rather than undergo Tommy John surgery to pitch again. Flynn started on the mound for Assumption for three years before...