Olen Little thought he was done playing with his high school teammates. After graduating from East Mecklenburg in 2010, Little went to Wingate to play college baseball last year.
This summer, the right-handed pitcher is back, playing with the high schoolers, one of two members of the Queen City Mustangs (formerly Post 262, based out of Myers Park) playing American Legion baseball after a year in college.
"One thing that made me come back is I liked it last year," said Little, 19, who played for Post 262 last summer. "Coach (Greg) Clewis does a good job with us. ... It's relaxed, no pressure on you, really. Just go out, have fun, play ball."
Former Charlotte Catholic pitcher Ryan Weise is also playing with the Mustangs after his freshman year at Lenoir-Rhyne.
American Legion senior leagues are for players 19 and younger. Though the teams consist mostly of high school players, some college players who don't join summer college leagues will participate.
The Mustangs include players from Myers Park, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Country Day and Charlotte Catholic, and three players from Little's former school.
"It's nice to play with them again one last time, thinking that last year was my last year playing with them in high school," said Little.
Little was an all-conference pitcher and outfielder and a team captain his senior year at East Meck. He batted .378 with 19 RBIs his last year as an Eagle. Little was 5-3 as a pitcher in 2010 with a 2.07 ERA. He also was a quarterback for the football team.
Little was a relief pitcher at Wingate his freshman year, appearing in six games and finishing the season with a 6.97 ERA. His season was shortened by a rotator cuff injury, but Little still got to travel with the team to the NCAA Division II regionals, where the Bulldogs (34-22) lost their first two games.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound rising sophomore hoped he would get a chance to play infield and outfield with the Mustangs, but so far he's spent most of his time on the mound.
The Mustangs have had a solid season, taking a 13-5 record into the final weekend of the regular season and are in third place in the Area IV Eastern Division. The Area IV playoffs start this week.
Little is one of the starters in a four-pitcher rotation. He has a 3-0 record and a 1.31 ERA in six games this year (four starts) with 31 strikeouts and seven walks.
Little may not be facing the same level of competition he did in college, but Clewis said that playing in the summer can help an athlete.
"Sometimes it's not the level of competition. They just need to work," said Clewis. "Sometimes you go and play in a (summer college league) or whatever, which is a great experience if you're a front line guy, but if you get stuck in the back of somebody's bullpen you don't get the work you need. You may work two innings a week. Right now they're working on a four-day rotation."
This summer, Little is working to lose weight (he has had a back injury he thinks may be related to carrying a few extra pounds) and gain muscle.
American Legion ball appealed to Little because he knew it would be a little more relaxed than college.
"College is a lot more competitive in a way," he said. "I'm not saying this isn't competitive, but you come out and have some fun."
Little also had to adjust to college life in general.
"School is different," he said. "I'm getting used to (the time management), not having anybody saying, 'You've got to do this.'"
Little said he's not sure what he wants to major in, but he enjoyed psychology classes he took last year.
On the baseball field next year, Little said he hopes to continue improving his game and see more action out of the bullpen.
He may not be the most naturally talented player on the field, said Clewis, but his work ethic has helped him succeed.
"He's just got a real knack for the game," said Clewis. "He's just a grinder. Olen's just going to compete and he's going to make you beat him. He's not going to make a lot of mistakes."