Ten-year-old Cashmere Dior Daniels-Moye is running home. His feet whirl like two small tires and his lungs pump like an engine, fear coursing through him like fuel. He flies through West Meadowbrook, a low-income neighborhood in Greenville, North Carolina, until he reaches a plain-looking brick townhouse on Dudley Street. There are no lights on this block.
Cash is worried something is happening with a local gang, and he wants no part of it. His dad is already in prison. When he sees his mother, Tysheika Daniels, he tells her why he’s been running.
This makes Tysheika scared, and proud, and it makes her want to cry.
Extra innings are getting underway on a crisp and clear Wednesday night in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The Lufkin Little League squad from Texas and the North State All Stars from Greenville are tied at one run apiece. Winner gets a spot in the national championship game and three days’ rest to boot. Loser plays again tomorrow, where losing means elimination.
The North State team won’t lose now, not if Cash “The Wagon” Daniels-Moye has anything to say about it.
He’s internet-famous for his “Cash Wagon” nickname and steps into the box to lead things off for North State in the bottom of the seventh with untold numbers of social media supporters rooting him on.
His mother, Tysheika, is in the stands, cheering and stressing out at the same time, like all good parents.
Cash, however, prefers games like this. Blowouts can be fun, but when the game is a battle, you need a hero.
Cash loves heroes, and he really loves being one.
He has also struck out twice already tonight, which upsets him. There is no consolation to be found in the fact that he is facing one of America’s great Little League pitchers.
So he breathes.
Cash hammers a hard grounder in the hole between shortstop and third base, a single and a spark.
“Cha-ching!” his teammates yell from the dugout. “Cha-CHING!”
Tysheika screams and cheers and dances, and so do dozens of people in gold T-shirts around her.
For the briefest of moments, Cash can’t help but notice just how happy everyone is, and that makes him happy too.
Then Cash turns his focus back to the game.
Two years ago, when Tysheika Daniels went to Elm Street Park to sign up her son for Greenville’s Little League, she wasn’t sure what to think.
Greenville’s economy seems largely built around the Vidant Medical Center and East Carolina University, but many natives will tell you the baseball scene is the pulse of the town, starting with Little League.
And Cash couldn’t get enough of baseball. When he was five years old, he was playing with a friend, and the guy smoked a line drive over his head, or at least almost did—Cash jumped up and snatched the ball out of the air. That memory, that feeling, that leaping grab—“like I had bunny ears on my hat”—he can feel them all today as if they just happened, because that’s the moment he fell in love with baseball.
Every chance he had after that, Cash was running around West Meadowbrook playing baseball with the other boys around his age, throwing or hitting or putting together a quick pickup game.
This year his favorite baseball player is Aaron Judge; last year his favorite team was the Red Sox—and next year both will be different. The same goes for his other favorite sport, basketball, and for every sport there is. He just loves watching people be great at what they do, hence “The Wagon” nickname—short for “Bandwagon”—his teammates bestowed upon him, the ultimate bandwagon fan.
Cash was already a star in another local league and was having fun with his travel ball teams—but he was so good Tysheika worried he would get bored and quit.
Cash was six years old when his father, Tobia Moye, was arrested and charged with several counts of drug trafficking and the like, earning a 10-year federal prison sentence. Cash went with Tobia’s mother and sister to visit him a few times and hated it in that sweet, sadly funny way kids might hate prison: He had to do whatever the police officers there told him to do and wear what they told him to wear and eat when they told him to eat and I don’t never wanna go to prison, Momma. For a long time, he was scared of any police siren or even the sight of a police car, afraid they would come snatch him up and take him to prison with his father.
That’s what had him running away in a panic that one day.
Tysheika felt that Cash’s love for his freedom and for baseball was probably enough to keep him out of trouble, and he was such a good, sweet kid. He listened, he was considerate, “so much better than I am!” she says with a laugh.
But she also saw a lot of Tobia in Cash. Contrary to his name, Cash has no lust for money. Sometimes his grandmother tries to slip him 10 bucks here or 20 bucks here, and he’ll slip it right back to her, saying, “No Grandma, you need it more.” And if an uncle or someone tries to give him money as a gift, he’ll take it straight to Tysheika, telling her, “Here you go, Momma, this can help us out some.”
Tysheika worked hard—often two jobs, one as a debt collector and another at night doing whatever work she could find, most recently driving for Uber—and tried to give Cash what he needed, but she knew she couldn’t do much more than that with five kids. She hoped Cash never learned just how seductive and destructive drug money could be.
Greenville Little League has a whole tryout event followed by a literal draft of the players, and Cash was taken with one of the top picks in the draft, by the previous year’s worst team, Physicians East.
Word spread among parents about Cash and Tysheika’s situation, so parents and coaches offered him rides to and from school and practice and home and bought him McDonald’s and such on the way.
Gia Kean’s son Michael was nine years old that year, and she will never forget the day they were a few minutes late to practice. The other kids had already played catch and were ready to go, but Cash said, “Hey wait, Michael hasn’t warmed up yet—come here man, I got you.”
With the Little League season about to start, however, Cash suffered a terrible knee injury. He made a leaping catch during a travel ball game, landed awkwardly, wrenched his knee and then later—after getting a hit—felt it “crackling” while running the bases. As far as he remembers, that’s the only time he's ever asked a coach to take him out of a game.
Michael’s father and Gia’s husband, Brian Kean, is a chiropractor at an orthopedic practice in Greenville. They put lasers and all kinds of other stuff to work on Cash’s knee. Treating him took several weeks—and most of that time, he lived with the Keans.
When his knee was better and Tysheika asked how much she owed the doctor, he said she owed him nothing. Michael and his older sister Gracie—who also played Little League baseball—now felt like Cash was a brother, and Brian and Gia saw him like a son. They even took him to Topsail Island on vacation, and he wanted to learn how to surf, so he tried and tried until he finally did. The locals there started calling him Dinero.
It was Brian who taught Cash the breathing exercises he uses when he’s nervous and steps up to the plate.
The Keans have done a lot for Cash. Become another family.
And they’re not the only ones. They may have done more than most, but ask around Greenville and the North State crowd, and you’ll hear one story after another from one Greenville Little League mom or dad after the other. Maybe they’re not all about the healing of knees, but many families have had Cash spend days and nights with them. And when he is at their homes, he does chores with their children and teaches younger Little Leaguers how to pitch and tells them all just how great they are and how much more great they will be one day soon. He is thoughtful, and grateful. Those are the words everyone uses for him.
Funny. A blast. Just fun to be around.
Also, grown, mature, maybe beyond his years, organizing his own schedule, riding with this person here and that person there. Resourceful.
Their favorite word for Cash, though, is the simplest: great.
Over the years, the feeling has become mutual. Cash says, “I don’t think I would still be playing baseball without them.”
They are his heroes.
And now he wants to be theirs.
It’s Wednesday night in Williamsport, and Cash is on first with the Little League national championship game three basepaths away.
His North State All Stars teammate Matthew Matthijs is next up to bat. He’s as terrifying at the plate as he is on the mound—he hit 17 home runs in the regular Little League season and batted .807.
The Lufkin Little League team’s strategy is to pitch around him. One of the pitches gets away—a ball in the dirt—but the catcher blocks the ball softly so that it lands right in front of him.
Coach Mike Vaughn, in the third-base coach’s box, holds up his hands for Cash to stay.
Cash never sees him. He’s gone, sprinting, eyes on second base and nothing and nobody else.
The Lufkin catcher fires to second. The throw is wide of the bag, and Cash is safe and in scoring position with no outs.
Coach Mike gives Cash a look and wants to be mad. Then he can’t help but smile, white teeth shining behind a brown beard.
Cash smiles back and shrugs and holds up his hands and hollers, "I knew I was safe!"
Tysheika jumps up and down and dances in the stands. The fans around her go wild, and Cash’s teammates roar in the dugout.
Back in North Carolina, Tobia Moye is watching the game on a television in a house in Ayden.
He served his time at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, right up the road near Raleigh. When President Barack Obama changed some drug laws, Tobia’s sentence decreased from 10 years to eight. When he went through some drug programs, he had his sentence reduced two more years. He was released July 14, 2017.
Right toward the start of Cash and North State’s run.
Tobia and Tysheika are no longer together. Both have moved on and have children by new partners. But they are all friends, or at least friendly enough. “When you got kids like this,” Tysheika says, “you just kind of get over a lot of yourself. You gotta do what you gotta do for the kids, you know? And it’s like, enough of this frivolous stuff. What can we do to make the kids’ lives better?”
And so the day he was released from prison, Tobia called Tysheika, and she let him talk to Cash.
How’ve you been doing in school?
A’s and B’s.
What’s going on in baseball?
“And,” Tobia says now, “he says, ‘Good, it’s going good.’ You know Cash. He’s calm. He’s not gonna say too much. But damn.…”
Now Tobia is on home confinement. He’s driven Cash to practice and dropped him off several times, and he’s told his son he’s so glad he’s playing, and he hears he’s doing so well.
Whenever Cash came to see him in prison, Tobia told him to keep playing baseball: “When I get out I’m gonna come see you play. You better still be playing.”
Cash’s all-star tournaments took him to Durham, and Lake Gaston, and then beyond, all outside of his father’s probation district, so Tobia couldn’t go watch him play a game. But he hoped against hope Cash and North State would make it far enough to play on TV so he could see him then.
When he finally sees him, Cash is even better than Tobia could have hoped for.
Now, Tobia tells his son: “You’re doing good. It’s only gonna get better. Stay around the right people. Don’t make no new friends. It’s too easy to get sidetracked. Stay around them baseball people.”
Tobia works nights at a community college in Greenville about 20 minutes away, cleaning up the mechanical buildings. Before he leaves the house, he’s supposed to call and let his probation officer know. And his shift begins in about an hour.
But right now he’s locked in on the TV screen, and there’s no way he’s leaving until this game is over.
Matthijs and his power are at the plate, and Cash and his speed and his heart are on second, and they are heroes ready to do what heroes do.
On cue, Matthijs hammers a hard grounder up the middle.
Cash bolts from second, one thing on his mind.
The center fielder has to sprint in hard—he was playing at the warning track.
Cash rounds third hard and aggressively, a homing missile—and Coach Mike is more than halfway down the line, making sure Cash sees him this time: arms up, yelling STOP.
Cash slams on the brakes and books it back to third.
Everyone wearing gold in the stands makes the same expression, locking their fingers behind their heads and gasping and wondering what Coach Mike could be thinking.
What he is thinking is that the kid in center field is Hunter Ditsworth, the kid with a cannon who was just on the mound throwing 75 miles per hour an inning ago, and it’s stupid to risk the first out at home plate with your fastest kid on third and great hitters on deck.
He is thinking, don’t get greedy; play the game smart and safe and right, especially here and now, against the best in the world. Trust instinct and common sense,not raw emotion. This is how you win.
Lufkin intentionally walks Carson Hardee.
Now Thomas Barrett is up to hit with the bases loaded, force outs everywhere. Force out at home. Ground ball anywhere in the infield, Cash has to be fast.
Barrett hits a soft grounder to first.
Cash sprints and the first baseman charges the ball and scoops it up and Cash starts to slide and the first baseman throws to the catcher, and...
And Tysheika jumps up and down and screams, and all the gold shirts in the Williamsport stands scream with her. Tobia hollers and jumps out of his chair in Ayden, and the North State team pours out of the dugout—“Cha-CHING! Cha-CHING! Cha-CHING!”—and a thousand miles away the city of Greenville erupts, because Cash is safe at home.