Cash Daniels-Moye has no idea he's famous.
It's Thursday evening, August 10, and he's just returned to Greenville, North Carolina, with a North State All-Stars team that just won the Little League Baseball World Series regional in Warner Robins, Georgia, locking them in for the championship round. Police cars escorted their team's caravan to Greenville's pristine Elm Street Park, all flashing lights and blaring sirens as they entered the crowd of hundreds packing the ballpark parking lot, parade-style. Big league-style. Tonight, they celebrate. Tomorrow, they practice. And on Saturday, they go to Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Wearing a white and green baseball cap with a green "G" on the front, a green T-shirt with a white "G" on the chest, gray shorts and gray Nike slides with white basketball socks, 12-year-old Cash stands in Elm Street Park's outfield grass.
Someone asks him how it feels to be famous on Twitter. He shrugs and asks, "What for?" He made some diving catches in the outfield, sometimes looking like a kid who found a loophole in gravity for a second, and he hit some home runs. He's the quiet type, rounding the bases or standing to hold up the ball—to show that, yes, he did just do that—and maybe let out a little grin. His teammates do plenty of yelling for him: "Cha-CHING! Cha-CHING!"
But Cash didn't get famous for anything like that. Instead, it was a screenshot from one of his games ESPN broadcast that someone posted to Twitter. Cash was at the plate, and the TV chyron showed his name, some other stuff not important at the time and his nickname: "The Wagon." The image flew around the internet, and in an instant thousands of people were yell-typing about The Cash Wagon!!!! from North Carolina.
Properly debriefed, Cash laughs a little and shakes his head. "Really?" He'd just told the TV producers his name was Cash, which he's gone by almost completely the past few years—his full name is Cashmere Dior Daniels-Moye—and tweaked the nickname his teammates had given him: Bandwagon. (Last year he rooted hard for the Red Sox; this year, it's the Reds. His favorite player is Aaron Judge, but that'll change year to year, too.)
Cash is far from alone in this, though. Several players from other Little League teams around the country have gone viral too, a bunch of kids getting famous overnight, many for reasons wholly unrelated to the actual sport of baseball. The total number of retweets and favorites and posts and comments about them is impossible to count, falling somewhere well into the millions.
If there is such a thing, this has been the most viral LLWS ever—and the championship round is only getting started.
Take Jeffrey Powell, the backup first baseman for the Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Little League team. You probably saw him. He stands 5'2" and, as the ESPN chyron pointed out more than once, weighs 220 pounds. In a nationally televised game against Greenville, he put cups on his ears and cheered loud and hard. Before he even took an at-bat, his nickname echoed throughout the Twitterverse like the best four-letter word ever: BOOG. By the time he hit a ground ball late in the game and ran with all his heart on his way to getting thrown out at first, he had captured the hearts of all on the internet.
And there's Cooper Hamblin from Kansas, who went viral with a screen grab that showed his favorite athlete was…himself. (His second-favorite, he tells B/R, is Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.)
Maine's Richie Gilboy became an internet star after hamming it up for the ESPN cameras by saying "I take Big Daddy Hacks" and then promptly taking one such Big Daddy Hack that launched a ball out of the park—a home run that also tied the game. An Instagram post of his proclamation drew almost 100,000 views.
Vermont's Ben Deibler became a hero for awkward boys everywhere with the "fun fact" he apparently gave ESPN producers. A screen grab of his response netted more than 50,000 likes from a post by Barstool Sports that simply said "Baller Alert" above the image. What did he say? "Has a crush on his teacher (Sup Mrs. Stevens?)"
On and on this went, boys' friends and family members tapping them on shoulders and shoving phones in their faces to show them how they'd become famous. People recognized them everywhere—games, parking lots, dorms, restaurants—and asked them for autographs and selfies. Their Instagram accounts went from a couple hundred followers to a few thousand overnight. Fans chanted for them during games.
"It's real fun," says Gilboy, whose Instagram followers over the last couple of weeks jumped from a few hundred to nearly 3,000. "And yeah, it's good for the most part. But it can also be bad. And, like, weird."
"Weird" certainly is one word for it. Take Ben Deibler, the kid who has a crush on Mrs. Stevens. Turns out that chyron was photoshopped. ESPN told The Daily Dot it never aired those words, and indeed, looking back over the telecast reveals that at the time that chyron appeared, it said: "Favorite movie: Dumb and Dumber."
Deibler's mother, Mindy, returned calls from B/R about the incident but refused to comment, saying their family just wanted the whole conversation surrounding it to go away. If she knows how it got started in the first place, she's not telling. Barstool Sports never replied to requests for comment, either—it was their Pardon My Take podcast Twitter account that seems to have first posted the image.
Indeed, a lot of Little League baseball's new viral stars have gotten an education in just how cruel people can be online. Their parents did, too. "It was definitely an eye-opener," says James Gilboy, father of Richie "Big Daddy Hacks" Gilboy.
And for today's kids, becoming famous overnight is wildly different than it has ever been before. Whatever is said and written about you is carved into the internet forever, ink on the pages of history we're writing ourselves, and it will forever attach itself to your name if and when people Google you—or, let's be honest, you Google yourself.
That can be an intoxicating thing for the young mind. It can also be dangerous.
In a sense, the kids and their parents see the good side this new kind of attention represents, in its purest form: The kids get famous for having a blast. And with the world feeling so dark and scary these days, something about rooting for a bunch of kids playing baseball feels like believing in the future.
But this is the internet, after all, where it seems like everything good has to be balanced out by twice as much bad.
And so some have truly suffered.
"Oh, we heard all the fat jokes," Richie Gilboy says.
Hateful people just say hateful things—haters gonna hate, James adds, because "they can hide behind their hashnames."
"Hashtag, Dad," Richie says. "And that's a hashtag, not a username."
The worst of it seems to have landed on Jeffrey "Boog" Powell. It wasn't just the jokes about his weight he heard.
Three guys from Barstool Sports mocked Boog (warning: video is NSFW) the way they might mock a big leaguer, going on and on about how "fat" he was. If it was supposed to be funny, the humor didn't land at all for Jeffrey and his dad. Jeffrey says he let it go—"It is what it is"—but it's obvious that stuff like that hurts him.
"He's lighthearted, and tender—a very big-hearted kid," his dad, Matthew Powell, says.
When he's playing football, when Boog tackles someone, if he feels like he hit them too hard, he'll go back to them after the play and help them up, make sure they're all right. "He feels bad about it," Matthew says. "He's very loving."
"It's like, I don't really care," Jeffrey says, "but like…it kinda hurts, too. You just try not to show it. Like, you can't do anything about it. But also, like, why would people say stuff like that about me publicly? I just try not to think about it."
There's a pause. A beat of heavy silence in the conversation. Then he adds, "I do sometimes kind of wish things could just go back to the way they were, though."
The way things were before was simple for these kids. They loved the game, so they played the game, and they played it well.
Goodlettsville's and Jeffrey's run at Williamsport was one of the best things to happen in his father Matthew's life in a long time.
They'd been through it the past few years, especially Dad. He got divorced and took custody of the three kids. Then at work—he's a registered nurse—some patients died while he was one of the nurses on shift. The emotional weight of it all made him finally decide to just take some time off earlier this year. He went back to work in construction, to use his hands and get out of his head and feel the sunlight.
There was nothing like watching Jeffrey play baseball. That had been his sport, too. The elder Powell was a shortstop and second baseman in his day, even playing some college ball. Jeffrey saw a picture of his dad from the 1990s, wearing a baseball cap with "Boog" on it—a nickname bestowed upon him by a youth coach—and Jeffrey said he liked the nickname. He's held on to it ever since.
So when ESPN came asking what his nickname was, that's what he wrote down. It was as much about his dad as himself.
And when people around the world start ripping the boy's weight when all he's trying to do is play a game as best he can, that adds another kind of weight. There's the pressure of playing not only in front of a crowd, and not only on national TV, but also with hack bloggers waiting to make jokes about you on the internet. It's a balancing act parents have never known in all of human history.
The only real option, then, for the Powells and the Gilboys and the others, is to focus more on the stuff happening offline, in the real world, with real people. The real world is where all the best stuff happens anyway. Look what happened when Goodlettsville lost out. It happened in the semifinals, and it broke the players' hearts, but they found meaning in it by giving their bats away. Little League bats can be expensive—up to $275 a pop, maybe even more—and they break more frequently than you’d think. Many coaches will spend their own money to make sure their players have the bats they need.
But with their LLWS run over, Goodlettsville found a worthy benefactor in Cash Daniels-Moye and North State, the team from Greenville, North Carolina.
They were always nice and respectful, and the most fun for Boog and the others to hang out with during their downtime. "We're excited for them," Goodlettsville coach Chris Hood says. "Obviously, we wish we were where they are. But if there's another team we'd rather be there, they're them. They're the ones we're pulling for."
Indeed, Cash is one of those types of kids people like to help.
Contrary to what his name suggests, he doesn't care about money, at least not in the irresponsible way some kids blow every dime they find right away. His grandma tried to give him $20 the other day. He slipped it back into her pocket and said no, he knows she needs it more. An uncle gave him $10 when he got back to Greenville, and Cash took it to his mother, Tysheika, and said, "Here you go, Mom, this might help us out some."
He nearly blew out his knee toward the end of summer last year. One of his teammates' parents happens to be a doctor who handles such injuries, however, and he treated Cash. He even lived at their house instead of his own for a while. And when it came time to settle the bill, the father told Tysheika she owed him nothing.
In the middle of all that, Tysheika's house flooded in the fall when Hurricane Matthew turned the streets of Greenville's West Meadowbrook neighborhood into rivers.
Another teammate's family took them in, letting them crash at their house for weeks while the damage was sorted. Some local coaches, including North State's Mike Vaughn, led a fundraising drive for Little League families affected by the floods, and Cash got some new gear—a new bag, glove, bat and batting gloves. He still uses them.
Back in Greenville after the trip home from Georgia, as everyone celebrates, Cash looks around Elm Street Park in a silent sort of wonder. There are several full-blown camera crews from local and regional television stations, and several more photographers with reporters from local newspapers and websites—and swarming all around the kids and the media are the parents and the siblings and the fans, dozens of them holding up their smartphones, shooting videos and pictures that will soon be uploaded to the internet.
People keep coming up to Cash, asking for his autograph and if they can take a selfie with him.
"This is crazy," he says. "I've already taken, like, a thousand pictures."
How it took Cash the better part of a week to learn he'd gone viral on Twitter is some kind of miracle. Maybe he didn't know because Twitter's not cool for kids these days. (Cash is 12.) Maybe it's because he's 12 years old and has been focused on other things, like dropping bombs or flying across outfields, or the fact that his house was flooded last fall.
Or maybe it's the fact that they're going to Williamsport.
"Cash-cash!" a boy yells at him from across the diamond. "Cash me outside! Cash-cash-cash me outside!"
Cash takes off running. There were more people making their way to them with their phones and cameras ready to record another piece for their internet collections, but now he's gone. Cash runs across the park, and he plays with his friends.
Brandon Sneed is a writer-at-large for B/R Mag and the author of Head In The Game: The Mental Engineering of the World's Greatest Athletes (out now from Dey Street). His writing has also appeared in Outside, ESPN The Magazine, SB Nation Longform and more. He has received mention in The Best American Sports Writing. His website is brandonsneed.com. Follow him on Twitter: @brandonsneed.