NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Getting to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania is something that young boys and coaches around the globe dream of. For the South Nashville Little League All-Stars and coach Chris Mercado that vision has become an incredible reality over the past two seasons as the squad has claimed back-to-back championships in the formidable Southeast Region.
Mercado’s teams are known for sound, fundamental baseball, something that he learned all too well under the tutelage of Lipscomb baseball head coach Jeff Forehand during his collegiate playing days at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville.
“He teaches them the right things and shows them how to play the game and put every ounce of effort into it,” said Forehand. “In turn, that pays off for them having a good team but I think he does it in the right perspective. He understands what aged kid he is coaching. He relates well to that aged kid.”
Mercado gained a lot of that perspective from his time under Forehand along with how to manage his players off the field and on the diamond when the pressure is on.
“With Coach Forehand it was all about the attitude and making sure that the players have the right kind of approach and try to energize everybody,” said Mercado. “And when it was time to get to work, it was time to get after it. He kept things loose at times and we trusted him. You have to trust somebody to go with what they say and that goes a long way. As a coach he taught us a lot.”
The South Nashville squad has continually shown the fight and energy needed to become champions having won both the Southeast Region and Tennessee state championships this season, overcoming some obstacles to reach their ultimate goal of advancing to Williamsport.
Forehand has enjoyed following the team and relishes in the success that the group and Mercado have had.
“That for me is exciting because I’ve known him all the way from his days as a player and have watched him develop all the way through,” said Forehand. “I really enjoy watching the excitement that comes from his team having success.”
Mercado attributes a lot of that success to Forehand and a number of other coaches that he has learned from and leaned on.
“Coach Forehand came and talked to the team during practice earlier in the season and he really fires me up,” noted Mercado. “I obviously took a lot of his coaching style. I’m a thief. I just take a lot of the coaches I listen to and just try to put it into our system. That’s one of the reasons we are doing so well is that good advice.”
That advice from Forehand comes many times during postgame chats between the duo, who talk after virtually every win or loss.
“He’s fun to talk to, especially when we win,” said Mercado. “He fires me up and it’s good to hear from my coach and have another perspective on what he thought and any of the kind of encouraging things he can give me as a college coach. Anything he can give me, I’m going to take and I’m going to listen.”
Forehand enjoys the chats as well and lending what advice he can to help out the program.
“It’s fun to talk to him after the game and hear his strategy and what he’s trying to do,” said Forehand. “It’s fun to know he’s leading those guys. They believe in him and they trust in him and every one of them is excited to have a chance to play for him.”
Forehand is quick to point out that the team’s achievements are due to Mercado’s hard work in rebuilding the South Nashville Little League program and not from his postgame counsel.
“It’s pretty special for them to make it back to Williamsport again because I know how hard Chris has worked to revitalize baseball in South Nashville with all the labor he’s done with the fields and getting this organization back running is so gratifying to see,” said Forehand. “Nobody knows how hard Chris Mercado has worked at it and I only know a little bit of it from the outside. I don’t think any of us really know how hard he’s worked to bring this program to where it is and that’s what is exciting to me.”
Mercado’s persistent effort and determination to bring the South Nashville program to the elite level has paid off in many ways including an influx of better talent.
“It’s a community thing and Chris has attracted better and better players,” said Forehand. “He’s revitalized Little League in this area and he’s put himself on the map so to speak so all the guys want to play for him and be part of his organization. And who wouldn’t as they’ve had some success? Not many people realize the grind he went through in the years before getting it built up to be able to do this.”
Among the talented bevy of players from the southeastern side of the Music City are Eston Snider and Houston High, who both have fathers that donned the Purple and Gold to play for the Lipscomb Bisons.
“Having those guys on the team is just a bonus,” said Mercado. “They are both really good kids. Lipscomb’s a really good program and when they get older they might want to go there and play for Coach Forehand. I always talk to the team about how good of a coach he is and how hard they have to work to get there no matter what level of college baseball it is.”
Forehand believes that it will be a continual trend for Mercado’s squad and something that will “be seen more and more as the years go on.” He also hopes to make it a tradition to go to Williamsport to catch Mercado’s squad in action like he will this year. Having his former skipper make the trip is something that is exciting for Mercado as his club takes on the Mid-Atlantic champions from Philadelphia.
“It’s really special that he’s going to be at the game,” said Mercado. “I actually called him up and told him he had to come, but he was trying to keep it a secret. But then I told him that Coach (Tim) Corbin was coming and he said that I better not throw that in his face and that he was actually coming. He knows that I wanted him to come and it means a lot to me.”
It will also be a special day for Forehand, who is known as a player’s coach and develops deep relationships with his team. Nothing would make him prouder than for the South Nashville team to bring home the Little League World Series title to the Volunteer State.
“Chris is that guy that is always going to figure out how to get it done,” said Forehand. “it’s just so fun to be able to see him do that and for our relationship to grow from that because he’s a blue-collar guy that has just grinded his way. All the successes he’s had he’s worked for and deserves them so much.”