Four years ago -- the summer of 2008 to be exact -- was when Tice, Ursini and 10 other youngsters propelled Shelton National to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Tice and Ursini belted back-to-back homers in the sixth inning in the New England Regional final in Bristol, turning a 1-0 deficit against Manchester (N.H.) North into a raucous, walk-off celebration, punching their ticket to Pennsylvania.
"People you don't even know are coming up to you asking for autographs, people are shaking your hand," said Tice, now a junior at Shelton High. "It's kind of out of hand, you're only 12, but they're treating you like a celebrity.
"Now it's a little different."
The players from the Shelton team -- now mostly sophomores and juniors -- and, to a lesser extent, the group from the 2010 Fairfield American team that went to the Little League World Series -- some freshmen, most still in middle school -- are finding that success at 12 years old doesn't necessarily translate into automatic stardom on the high school diamond.
It's almost as if the alternate slogan for the Little League World Series should be, "What happens in Williamsport, stays in Williamsport."
The baseball diamond itself, the players say, is indeed the biggest difference from playing as a Little Leaguer to a high schooler.
Everything is smaller on the Little League diamond, from the 46-foot mound, 60-foot base paths and, most importantly, the 200-foot deep outfield fences. With everything so small -- coupled with space-age aluminum bats -- kids who mature earlier can dominate their opponents either by throwing harder or socking home run after home run on balls that would be nothing more than pop-ups on a bigger field.
Take Tice for example.
"Back then, I was one of the taller kids on the team," said Tice, now 16. "I was like 5-foot-3, I grew about two inches."
There's always the running joke every summer, too, about checking some of the older-looking players' birth certificates or asking if they're already shaving. The Shelton National group -- which went 1-2 in pool play at the World Series -- certainly had its share of big kids, but Shelton High baseball coach Scott Gura said they stood out for different reasons.
"They were talented, they weren't just bigger than the other kids you see," Gura said. "These kids showed natural ability as 11- and 12-year-olds. They were able to hit and pitch pretty smoothly at a young age."
Still, for as talented as they were in that magical summer of 2008, it's been a mixed bag of sorts at the high school level for Shelton National. Tice and Ursini are the only two from the team playing varsity at Shelton, with Jake Szymansky, Hudson Boles and Pat Murphy all on the junior varsity team. Starting shortstop Matt Batten is now leading off for St. Joseph, ranked in the top 10 in the state, while star pitcher Bobby Moretti is at West Haven and catcher Anthony Searles is donning the "tools of ignorance" at Notre Dame-Fairfield. The rest of the team is no longer playing baseball.
Factoring in adolescence and changing interests, Gura thinks the progression from Little League to varsity baseball is actually better than normal for the 2008 Shelton National team.
"Look at the Trumbull team in 1989 that won it all, they had one kid that developed into anything and that was Chris Drury," Gura said, referring to the recently retired NHL center, who starred for Trumbull in Williamsport but ending up having infinitely more success as a hockey player later in life than baseball.
If there's a word the players from both Shelton National and Fairfield American use when looking back on their Little League World Series experiences, it's "dwell." As great as it was playing in front of 20,000 people with ESPN cameras filming it all, they all say they don't want what they did as 12-year-olds to define them as ballplayers.
"It's different now, it's a huge difference on the big field, playing for different reasons, playing for different things," Ursini said. "It's completely different, you don't even think about Little League too much any more.
"It's not really a big deal anymore. I wouldn't say people have forgotten about it, but it's not the No. 1 thing people are going to think about -- what we did when we were 12. I don't think it has all the hype it had when we were 12."
Tice, who scored the winning run for Shelton High in the 2010 SCC championship game as a freshman, is a little more straightforward in his assessment of how the differences between Little League and high school are perceived.
"Little League means nothing. Sure, we went to Williamsport, and that was a big thing, but everyone plays Little League. There's a lot of luck getting to Williamsport. Winning a state championship (in high school) means a lot more," he said. "You get 11-, 12-year-olds playing, not the whole thing was lucky, but you come together like that and play all these teams. We won all these games. When you come to high school, you have to win in the regular season and every game in the playoffs."
Batten, who remains close with Tice and Ursini, agrees with his former Shelton National teammates, since the level of competition at high school makes winning at the varsity level much more satisfying in the long run. The chance to win in high school, he thinks, far surpasses the thrill of playing in the Little League World Series even with all the national attention it garners.
"Everything changes; now it's more of a team game. In Little League, everyone could dominate," Batten said. "(High school) is more current. It's a bigger thing because everybody is better, so this would be a bigger win."
a new game
In Searles' mind, there's more at stake once you reach high school with everybody eyeing a college scholarship and those long-harbored dreams of playing in the majors.
"As kids, it's not that we didn't take it in, but we maybe didn't get the full effect," he said. "When we lost a game, 10 minutes later we could shake it off and do something else. Now, I think, we tend to dwell on the wins and losses more."
For the members of the Fairfield American team, which also went 1-2 in pool play at the World Series, the transition from Little League heroes to varsity players is still a work in progress, only in its early stages.
From that squad, only Nick Nardone is playing varsity as a freshman, starting at shortstop at Fairfield Warde. He's the lone player from the team to attend Warde, due to redistricting in Fairfield when he was a second-grader. Connor Daley, Nate Klein, Patrick O'Leary and Tom Ryan are all on the freshman team at Fairfield Ludlowe, while the rest remain eighth-graders.
"The good thing about our team and our kids is they never got too high on ESPN, being on a TV ride, and honestly, I don't think they think that it's a whole heck of a lot different," said Chris Daley, the head coach for Fairfield American in 2010. "They all enjoy playing baseball. They've all transitioned to the big field. They don't care playing in front of 20,000 people or 20."
The changes might, in the end, be more jarring to the parents watching their sons play than the players themselves, as the typical high school baseball crowd pales in comparison to the huge crowds that convene in Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
"They're still kids in Little League," Nick Nardone's father, John, said Wednesday night when Warde played Ludlowe at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. "Little League, they're so young, there's no expectations when you start off. This is a little more serious."
Fairfield Ludlowe coach Keith O'Rourke knew, because of the town's strong feeder system, that he'd have the Fairfield American players passing through his program. He said there weren't any unusual or unrealistic expectations levied on the Fairfield American players as they entered high school because the changes from a 12-year-old to a high school player are well documented.
"Being a Little League champion at U-12 doesn't translate into a high school state championship when you're a senior, but in my case, I hope it does," O'Rourke said.
In the end, for Nick Nardone, playing varsity baseball as a freshman is simply another challenge on the diamond -- one he relishes.
"It's a new start," he said. "It's like starting Tee Ball for the first time. It's a bigger field ... you gotta go out and redeem yourself."