With his performance in the Youth Pan-Am Games last September, Pine View shortstop Marcus Littlewood established himself as one of the best middle infielders in the world in his age group.
No, not in the nation. Not in the state. Not in 4A.
In the world.
Littlewood was named to the All-Tournament team in the international competition after helping Team USA's 16-under team to a gold medal. He hit a bases-clearing double in USA's 7-3 gold medal-clinching win over Mexico, and that was just icing on the cake. It was a tremendous accomplishment just making the team.
Littlewood followed up his performance as a member of Team USA with a brilliant junior season at Pine View. For his efforts, Littlewood is the 2009 Deseret News Mr. Baseball award recipient. He is the second player to earn the honor. Former Judge Memorial pitcher Joe Pond was the inaugural winner last year.
"It's a great honor," Littlewood said. "Mr. Baseball — that's a good title."
And it's a deserved one for Littlewood, who grew up in the dugout while tagging along with his dad, current Dixie State coach Mike Littlewood, to various baseball diamonds throughout the state pretty much since he was able to walk. Littlewood put up eye-popping numbers at the plate, and showed he's the best defensive player in the state during the 2009 season.
Littlewood started the season on fire, hitting five home runs in the first two weeks. He batted .531, had an on-base percentage of .634, hit 14 doubles, five triples and finished with six homers. He slugged 1.047 and drove in 22 runs. He was walked 32 times, eight of which were intentional passes.
Numbers don't lie, and they also don't tell the story of Littlewood's ability and the season he had. As good as he is as a hitter and pitcher (he had a 2-1 record with a 1.53 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings), Littlewood is even better defensively at shortstop. He made a spectacular pair of plays at shortstop in the Marshall Gates Foundation/Deseret News all-star game last week, ones that few others in the state could make look as easy — or even make.
"Defensively, he's a man amongst boys," said Pine View coach Randy Wilstead. "His knowledge and ability are levels and levels above other high school kids."
That didn't happen by accident. Littlewood gleaned a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge from his father and his father's assistant coaches through the years, and he has studied the game like a pro ballplayer. One Major League scout said prospects' baseball IQs are rated between 20 and 80. He said Littlewood's is 80-plus.
"As a player, his knowledge is far superior to anyone else's," Wilstead said. "He truly drinks and sleeps baseball."
Wilstead has seen that firsthand for more than a decade.
"I remember him being like 6 (years-old) and saying, 'Randy, let's go play catch,' " Wilstead said. "It was obnoxious. But that's why he is where he is."
Wilstead was far from the only guy Littlewood pestered to play catch or hit grounders to him. Littlewood developed a passion for baseball — and to be a great player — at a very young age.
"I've always been around a high level of competition," Littlewood said. "I just grew up with a passion for the game. It's pretty much my life. I don't really have any hobbies or anything. It's just working out and baseball, I guess. And I'm fine with that. I love baseball."
Littlewood's love for the game has helped crowd his trophy collection. In addition to his Mr. Baseball award, Littlewood has twice been recognized as the Gatorade Utah Baseball Player of the Year, and he was a first-team all-state pick as a sophomore. Only one other player, Cottonwood's Tanner Robles, has won the state's prestigious Gatorade honor two times.
As a sophomore, Littlewood was ranked as the nation's top prospect in his class by Perfect Game. He has already committed to play for the University of San Diego when he graduates from Pine View, although playing pro ball out of high school may be a more likely scenario for Littlewood.
All the awards and accolades bring pressure and high expectations for a young standout like Littlewood. But he looks at them as a reason to try and get better.
"It's more of a motivational factor for me," Littlewood said. "As I succeed, it's more of a motivational factor for me because it proves I can get that much better."
That sheer drive is yet another reason why Littlewood is the state's top player. Wilstead said Littlewood is always the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He takes that work ethic to other aspects of his life, as he carries a 3.6 grade point average, and volunteers in his church and as a youth baseball coach.
"He doesn't tell anyone how great he is," Wilstead said. "He's twice the person that he is the ballplayer. I'm glad I get him for one for more year."
High school baseball enthusiasts should be just as grateful.