Will Spears has his sister, Jasmine, to thank for getting him into altar serving last spring.
Jasmine, a veteran altar server, was making her confirmation, and thus was unable to don her alb and serve at the confirmation Mass in the Spears family’s home parish of Blessed Trinity in New Orleans.
“So I told them to pick Will,” chuckled Jasmine, a senior at Cabrini High.
Since that time, Will, a 12-year old sixth grader at St. Stephen School, has enjoyed holding the lectionary for his pastor, Father John Asare-Dankwah, and carrying the cross at the beginning and end of Mass. But it’s what he picks up outside of church that occupies most of his time these days: a baseball.
Will, a gifted athlete who plays on St. Stephen’s flag football, basketball and indoor ball teams, spent part of last summer in the Baseball Hall of Fame town of Cooperstown, N.Y., as a competitor in the “Little Majors” tournament. His Kenner-based team of 12- and-13-year-old boys, nicknamed “The Bayou Bombers,” placed 23rd out of the 105 competing teams. Although he and his teammates failed to take the Little Majors title, Will, a 5-foot-9 right-hander, pitched a no-hitter in one of the tournament’s six-inning games.
“It was fun! It felt like we were playing in the major leagues,” said Will, alluding to the stadium’s beautiful field and the contest’s authentic baseball uniforms and baseball-card-like photographs taken of players kneeling with their bat and ball.
Tournament play in Cooperstown was preceded by an intensive training camp in which players were sequestered from their families for a week and given their own lockers and dorm rooms. Another cool amenity on the Cooperstown diamond was having access to a piece of equipment that measured the speed of each pitch. Will’s fast ball was clocked at 80 mph. and his curveball – his favorite pitch, along with the knuckleball – was clocked at 67 mph.
If pitching a no-hitter weren’t thrilling enough, Will also hit a solo home run while at Cooperstown, launching the long ball after receiving the very first pitch of his first at-bat.
Still, Will, who plays centerfield when he’s not pitching, said he would rather be on the pitcher’s mound than behind the plate.
“You can get your hands on the ball and you can hold your team up and keep them in charge of the game,” he said, adding that he hopes to play baseball for either St. Augustine, Holy Cross or Brother Martin when he gets to high school.
“Baseball is a danky game,” Will said, using a slang term for fun. “You have to pay attention the whole game and use your skills.”
Will’s mother, Joanne Spears, calls his gift for pitching “a blessing from God” that was spotted by coaches when Will was an 8-year-old player at Carrollton Playground.
“He just started throwing the ball, and they said, ‘Where did he get this arm from?’” Spears recalled, adding that her son was also made a centerfielder because he was the only player who could catch a fly deep in the park and get it to home plate in time to get runners out.
Spears is proudest of how her son has become a mentor to younger players, recalling how he recently showed a youngster how to throw his trademark curve ball.
“To me it’s amazing,” Spears said. “That’s my son, and little kids are looking up to him.”
When Will isn’t serving Masses at Blessed Trinity, he plays the drums in the choir at the 10 a.m. Mass. Otherwise, he’s off to the pitcher’s mound for hours of practice.
“I want to pitch for the major leagues,” Will said, “but if baseball doesn’t work out, I want to be a pediatrician.”