When Mookie Betts takes the field for the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night in the first game of the 2018 World Series, the 26-year-old outfielder will do so as one of the world's best baseball players.
The Red Sox phenom is a three-time All-Star who many experts believe will be voted this season's American League MVP after he put together a historic season that helped lead his team to its current World Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At this point, any MLB team would love to have Betts on the roster. But two decades ago, the Tennessee-born Betts had trouble finding any Little League baseball team that would take him. In fact, if it wasn't for some quick thinking and motherly devotion from Betts' mom, Diana Collins, his baseball career might have ended before it ever began.
"Mookie was very small-framed, a very underweight small kid," Collins tells CNBC Make It about her son, who is still considered relatively small for a professional athlete, standing at just 5 feet 9 inches.
When he was 5, according to The Tennessean, Collins had trouble securing him a spot on one of the local Little League teams. Collins took Betts to a Little League sign-up event where they lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, only to have the first coach she talked to tell her that her son was too small for his team.
"He said, 'No, I don't really think [so]. I really need some bigger kids. I've got enough small kids and I'm trying to balance my team out,'" Collins says the coach told her.
She tried introducing Betts to the league's other coaches, but they were also holding open roster spots only for larger kids who might prove more athletic on the baseball field.
"I said, 'Give him a chance, because he really can play,'" Collins says she argued, but to no avail.
Collins had been playing catch with Betts in their backyard for a few years already. She knew he could catch a baseball as well as other kids his age, but she wanted him to learn more about the game through actual competition.
"Mookie was getting kind of discouraged," Collins tells CNBC Make It. "You know how kids are when they see somebody say 'No.'"
She told him not to worry, and that they'd find him a team. "He said, 'Nobody wants to have me.'"
"I'm like, 'Oh no, you're going to play,'" Collins says she told Betts before realizing that he wasn't the only child without a team. "I looked over and all of these other kids had the same [discouraged] look … other parents were kind of panicking that nobody wanted to play [their kids]."
Thinking quickly, Collins approached one of the Little League officials and asked if they could add more teams to the league, because there seemed to be enough kids without a team to field their own. She was told that was fine, but she'd need to line up a coach. Collins volunteered herself and that's how she became the first baseball coach of a future MLB All-Star.
"It's kind of a little sad story, but we just gathered up everybody that nobody wanted and we just formed our own team," Collins says. "It didn't matter, I wanted my kid to play ball."