Trace Morales should be celebrated for showing that 'team' still matters

Groton — Greater minds can debate the particulars of why the concept of team has lost its cachet. But slowly, like tooth decay, we drift toward independent contacting, rather than the esprit de corps that gets preached through endless bromides but applied in driblets.

But now come three little words that restore some faith, three little words about a Mystic Little Leaguer who will forgo the chance of his young lifetime to remain with his team in pursuit of a District 10 (and perhaps beyond) championship.

Three little words: Trace Morales stayed.

Morales, 12, could have spent the upcoming weekend in Atlanta in the T-Mobile Little League Home Run Derby, homage to the same event the preceded the Major League All-Star game earlier this week. The royal treatment awaited, not to mention the very real chance that Morales, who already stands 6-foot-1 and has wowed local crowds already this summer with his power, could have captured the whole ice cream truck and earned national attention.

Problem: The derby would have taken Morales away from his teammates for the weekend's District 10 championship round.

Trace Morales stayed.

How many would have gone?

Trace Morales stayed.

"It wasn't easy," Morales said after Thursday night's victory over Waterford in the opening game of the District 10 championship round. "But I wanted to be there for my team."

Cue some tears of joy. The concept of team, seemingly on about a 10-year losing streak, just scored a major victory, the tentacles of which may teach enduring lessons to all the friends, families and bystanders watching the Mystics this summer.

Morales, per the derby rules, got a chance to "audition" for the national tournament recently at Rossie Field. His dad, Lloyd, pitched to him some. So did Mystic coach (and former Fitch coach) Jeff Joyce.

Morales hit 37 home runs, the most in New England.

Now think about the discussion with a wide-eyed 12-year-old about individual vs. team when the individual went deep 37 times.

"I admit, the conversation wasn't easy," said Lloyd Morales, also one of Mystic's assistant coaches. "But we knew all along that the timing of it was going to be a conflict. We talked. But in the end, we knew staying was the right thing to do."

But how many families, especially in today's morass of self-indulgence, would have the guts to do what's right over what's convenient — or perhaps more exciting?

The Morales family grappled with The Clash's timeless question: Should I stay or should I go? They sought many opinions. He said they ran "about 50-50."

Maybe that's the most fascinating part. It's easy to blather about "team first" when it's an abstraction or applies to somebody else. But the Morales family suddenly faced some realism for which there is no manual.

"Our guys look up to Trace," said Joyce, whose twin sons, Dylan and Liam, also play on the team. "Now they've got someone who stuck by them even amid that huge opportunity. They'll run through fire for that kid now. It's such a great story. And I bet Trace doesn't even realize the good that's going to come to him because of making the decision will be 10 times better than anything he'd ever have won in Atlanta."

Joyce shoots, Joyce scores. Trace Morales just gave his teammates — and the rest of us, too — a frame of reference for the rest of our lives. We can simply ask: What did Trace do?

We face daily decisions about the concept of "I" vs. "we." We hear professional athletes spew all the clichés. But their actions? Show 'em the money. The ultimate acts of self-indulgence.

This was not easy for the Morales family. The kid is a spectacle, both hitting and pitching. Except that no fastball he ever throws, or home run he ever hits carries the significance of this life choice.

Trace Morales values his town, team and teammates more than he does his very real chance to win a national Home Run Derby championship.

And from the mouths of babes comes some very real hope.

The team still matters.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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