SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA. - Her son would play in the national Little League championship game the next day, but in her last chance to see him Friday night, Crystal Smith didn't mention baseball.
She talked about kid stuff.
Like how Justin, at 13, goofs around in a fake British accent. And how, when given the chance, he flopped to the ground to dance "the Worm" on national television during a Little League World Series broadcast.
And - apologies to everyone watching back home - she wouldn't tell Justin about all the people promising to tune in to the games.
Because he's still just a kid.
And she's one of the parents trying to navigate a team through pressure that many of the adults have never really felt themselves.
"We're trying to tell them nobody's watching," Smith said. "I don't want them to feel pressure like that."
But almost everybody they know did watch Saturday. And the kids played a ballgame that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
That the team managed to win, after giving up a 10-run lead going into the last inning, came as a relief to the kids' parents. Because for a few moments, they'd been forced to think about helping their children cope with a defeat beyond anything they could have imagined. Some appeared ready to throw up. Or cry. Or both.
Others tugged off their hats or bit fingernails. And just a few smiled, shaking their heads as if they didn't know what else would feel right to do.
"It wouldn't come down to just one person, but that's how it felt that sixth inning," said Amy Brown, who watched her son Luke, a pitcher, lose the team's big lead before he held on to another lead an inning later.
"I don't want our kid to be the one to lose this," Brown said she was thinking. "I mean, we've worked too hard."
Win or lose in today's world championship, the Browns will return to Greenbrier without any vacation days left, just like many of the Goodlettsville team parents who have come along with their team to a level of play none of them expected.
Amy is a teacher. Her husband, Robert, works for UPS.
"When I get back, I'm going to have to stay healthy for the rest of the year," he said.
All in, with sacrifices
Many parents and players have spent more days in hotel rooms than in their homes this month. They've sacrificed time, money and emotions, all to the game of baseball.
And while they like to say the decision to stick with the team was easy, they all still have bosses to answer to back home.
For Smith, a school resource officer with the Metro Nashville Police Department, the team's long winning streak has pushed her into a string of unpaid days.
She said she wasn't sure she'd even be approved to be away. The question eventually crossed the desk of Mayor Karl Dean, who spoke with city police Chief Steve Anderson and approved a leave, without pay, for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"We just didn't think we would make it this far," Smith said. "None of us really knew if we were going to get off."
Yet the parents - who work for the likes of Nissan, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and local schools - all committed to the team. Grandparents rescheduled vacations. More than 50 friends and relatives piled into a bus to make a 15-hour drive from Goodlettsville, arriving just in time for Saturday's batting practice.
And all of it has taken a toll. Lost pay for many, and long car rides for others.
Smith has missed another son's football games and the start of school.
"I'm not there to help him with his spelling words," she said.
Parents amid it all
Amid the maelstrom, the parents watch their boys show surprising maturity on the field and head-scratching silliness at the team hotel and at the amusement parks, pools and parks that the team visited on days when it didn't play.
Or, sometimes, all in the same day.
After the team's thrilling comeback win over Texas on Wednesday, it wasn't long before the team was playing arcade games back at the dormitory where it's staying, with a dad on the way carrying 16 double cheeseburgers.
Tournament officials tell parents to take advantage of every activity that comes with the tournament, but the boys still want to do things they do back home, like swimming and watching movies, said Jerry Marlin, father to first baseman Seth.
Parents try to help them unwind, for the most part leaving baseball pep talks and advice aside.
The team has played pingpong with retired big leaguer and ESPN commentator Nomar Garciaparra and attended a minor league baseball game with the team from Japan. The Goodlettsville players roomed next door to the national team from Mexico and became friends with ballplayers from Uganda.
When they're not relaxing, the parents watch as their boys learn what it's like to be noticed by girls.
At the Little League World Series, adoring girls seem to be everywhere, asking for autographs and pictures with the players. So many, in fact, that the teams travel into and out of the stadium in vans.
"Otherwise they would never make it," Marlin said.
Marlin just stands back, listening later to boys chatter with a sense of awe about all the "hot babes" they've been meeting.
"It's one of those things, it's coming around. They're at that age," Marlin said. "They're little. They're kids. But they are little rock stars right now."
The parents laugh about all the attention directed toward their kids.
"Whenever there's games, the boys want to be back over there at the stadium. They walk around and sign autographs and talk to girls," Smith said.
The 'whale call'
The team turns serious when it's time to put on its teal and white Southeast uniforms.
But even when the players enter game mode, the parents tend to watch a loose, quiet bunch of players who leave the adults believing that the games are more nerve-wracking for everyone in the stands.
The families find ways to turn that energy into a force of support - the 10th player, they call it. Almost everyone has a role. There are the loud ones, like Jerry Marlin and his "whale call"; the sign-makers; the dance team; and the one mom, Shannon Seals, who seems especially tuned to the most frustrating moments, choosing then to command all the fans back on their feet to cheer.
"I do believe, if we're dead, they're dead," she said.
On Saturday, most sat on the very edge of their seats, Smith included.
She watched much of the game leaning forward, almost doubled over at times. She watched son Justin knock a pinch-hit single in the fourth inning, sending her leaping into the air with an uppercut punch.
The parents - some of whom had screamed themselves voiceless by the third inning - also harnessed their backup cheering section of friends who traveled from Goodlettsville. They sat farther down the third base line, but close enough that the two groups were able to belt out call-and-response cheers.
In the sixth inning, their screams took on a different intensity as a 10-run lead fell apart. Some parents walked away from their seats.
But they came back, swallowing lumps in their throats.
"To have been up 10 and lost ... I kept thinking, did I dream this?" Seals said. "I really was thinking: How do you go back to school and say, 'We were up 10 and we lost?' "
An outcome like that would be tough to swallow at any age. With 12-year-olds, the parents knew they'd have to shift into helping kids deal with something they themselves had never faced.
But the kids didn't buckle. And when they look back, they'll tell a different story.