ASHLAND — One local Little League baseball player has already punched his ticket to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, this year.
Cash Compliment, who plays in Ashland American Little League, slugged his way into the inaugural T-Mobile Little League World Series Home Run Derby at youth baseball's premier event, which takes place August 15-25. Specific dates for the contest have yet to be set.
Compliment, 12, is one of eight players - four from each of the East and West regions - who will face off against one another once Little League International finalizes the details of the contest.
A similar contest is held in softball and both finals will be at Williamsport's Bowman Field where the Little League World Series will be played.
It's a journey that started with Compliment slugging 51 home runs at the initial qualifying event put together by Ashland Little League. That performance was submitted to the contest officials with the sponsor and earned Compliment a trip to Atlanta on July 14 at SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, where the four East region participants won their place in the final contest in August.
Compliment said a 180-foot temporary fence was placed just beyond the Braves' infield.
"It looked so big from our hotel," Compliment said of the view of the field. "Once I was down there (on the field), it wasn't so intimidating."
In the regional rounds, each participant competed in two-minute timed rounds.
Compliment said he had to overcome nervousness to manage 11 home runs in the first round to finish in the top six. That qualified for the second round where his 18 long balls earned him a spot in the top four from the region.
Compliment said, "Kids kept asking, 'Did we make it, did we make it?'" Finally, he got his confirmation that he took the fourth and final spot.
"I think it'll dawn on him when he's older what he's done," said Mike Compliment, Cash's father. "I'm nervous for him."
Mike Compliment purchased five buckets of baseballs to help get his son ready for the two minutes each player will have. Under the rules of the contest, after a ball is hit it must land before the next pitch can be thrown.
It's a routine the father and son have followed since May and June when the younger Compliment chose to participate in the local competition. Younger sisters Piper and Lucy have helped too, gathering hit balls back into the buckets and cheering on their older brother. Brandi, his mother, attends practice and acts as the timekeeper as she did Monday, even after finishing a night shift at King's Daughter's where she works as a nurse.
"It's a family affair," she said.
Cash Compliment said he's made new friends from the experience. At the regional tournament in Atlanta, the kids were given a tour of SunTrust Park and were in the same hotel together where they got to enjoy swimming and "hanging out" during the event.
Cash Compliment also received gifts to remember his achievement.
"I got a shirt for winning the qualifier and one that had the Little League patch on it," Cash Compliment said. "You got white pants, socks and a hat."
After hitting four home runs during the season and making the Ashland Little League All-Star team, Compliment's baseball season came to an end after Russell defeated Ashland for the district championship.
Compliment plays football, practicing in the afternoons, but his last moments as a Little League player will be momentous.
"I was thinking going on the field (at Atlanta) that I might never get to do this again," Compliment said. "I might as well go all the way."