With their amazing four-week run to the Little League World Series, the Mountain Ridge Little League All-Stars captured our city’s hearts—and deservedly so, becoming the first team from Nevada to qualify for the international tournament in its 68-year history, and falling just short of winning the U.S. championship. Hundreds of Las Vegans came out to City Hall and Town Square on August 30 to celebrate the players, who were paraded down the Strip in a double-decker bus, and received medals and keys to the city from Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
With their mementoes and newfound celebrity, the 12- and 13-year-olds have now returned to the normalcy of the classroom. Meanwhile, the Las Vegan making the biggest impact on the diamond this summer—without nearly the local or national fanfare given to the Mountain Ridge Little Leaguers—continues to crush baseballs at an amazing rate. Houston Astros designated hitter Chris Carter, a 2005 Sierra Vista High graduate, was the most prolific slugger in Major League Baseball in July and August, leading the majors with 20 home runs and 48 RBIs following a miserable start. “Early in the season I kind of fell into a slump, and I started spending more time with our hitting coach, John Mallee, working on my swing, being more direct to the ball and being more selective,” Carter says. “Now I’m starting to see results, hitting more homers, making better contact and getting better pitches to hit.”
Before this season, the 27-year-old Carter, who made his MLB debut with the Oakland Athletics in 2010, was known more for his majestic whiffs than his prodigious power. He hit 29 homers last year for the Astros, his fourth major league organization, but struck out 212 times, the third-highest single-season total in MLB history. “It bothers me,” Carter says about the strikeouts. “It’s never something I went through early in my career. I was never a big strikeout guy in high school, but then it started becoming that way. But I’m working on cutting that down.”
When Carter, who was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 15th round of the 2005 amateur draft, does put the bat on the ball, it usually goes a long way. As of September 2, he ranked third in the majors with 33 homers, and while he has still struck out 151 times, Carter’s starting to become more than an all-or-nothing hitter. To that point, he’s hitting .278 over his last 51 games after batting .184 in his first 71.
Carter’s emergence as a legit big league power threat, along with the accomplishments of the Mountain Ridge kids, highlight what has been the most glorious year for baseball in Las Vegas’ history. Former Valley High School pitching great Greg Maddux was a first-ballot inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Matt Williams, undisputedly the greatest player in UNLV history, is guiding the Washington Nationals toward a National League East title in his first season as the team’s manager. Helping Williams is native son Bryce Harper, who capped August with seven home runs over a 23-game stretch after previously missing 57 games with a thumb injury. Additionally, the Las Vegas 51s—our longest-existing professional franchise—finished tied for the best record in the Pacific Coast League, qualifying for the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since doing so over a three-year stretch from 1986-88. The 51s, who host Game 2 of the PCL playoffs at Cashman Field on September 4, also just announced they extended their affiliation with the New York Mets through the 2016 season.
Clearly, there have been many Las Vegas-related baseball accomplishments this summer, which perhaps accounts for overlooking Carter, although he’s hard to miss these days. When he helped Sierra Vista win the state title his senior year, Carter was a 6-foot-1, 185-pound shortstop. Now, the soft-spoken slugger is 6-4, 250 pounds and launching balls out of the ballpark with regularity, giving Las Vegas yet another diamond hero. “Hopefully I can do what I’ve been doing over the past couple of months and [sustain] it for a full season,” Carter says. “I’m just going to keep working hard, and hopefully this turns out to be [the player] I’m going to become.”