SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., — Brandi MacDonald had only missed a couple of baseball games her son, Brock, has ever played.
Until last week.
Brock, 12, plays center field and pitches for the Big Sky All-Stars, the first team from Montana ever to play in the Little League World Series. The team will play at 1 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday in the U.S.-bracket championship game.
"He's played baseball since he was in kindergarten, in T-ball," she said Thursday afternoon, waiting with her husband, Hugh, and daughter Boston for Brock to come out of the players' dorm for a family outing.
Brandi MacDonald is dark-haired and vivacious with an easy laugh. She's a stay-at-home mom to Blake, 15, Brock, Brooklyn, 10, and Boston.
Her kids are a priority, and so are their activities. When she misses a game, she feels bad.
After the Big Sky All-Stars won the state championship in Billings and flew to San Bernardino, Calif., for the Northwest Region tournament in early August, Brandi, Hugh and the kids hopped in their car and drove down to California.
Like the other parents, MacDonald said she didn't know how far the boys would go.
"We just kept taking it day by day because you never know," she said. "And they just kept going."
The Billings team went all the way, winning the regional championship. The boys and the coaches flew directly from San Bernardino to Newark, N.J., and then took a charter bus to South Williamsport, Pa.
That left the families to fly or drive back to Billings and arrange and catch flights to Pennsylvania. MacDonald and her father, Larry Watson, of Custer, booked a flight on Aug. 17 that would require two stops and three plane rides.
MacDonald, who was on her first plane ride, took Dramamine to help her. The pair made it as far as Denver, but that first flight was traumatic.
"I got really dizzy and disoriented and nauseous," she said. "When I got off, I said I couldn't go any farther."
When they couldn't find a car to drive back, they rented a small U-Haul truck and drove back to Billings. Then came the really hard part: calling her son.
She told him that she was really sorry she wouldn't be able to make it to the World Series. When the team played their second game, on Sunday, she watched it in Petro Theatre on the Montana State University Billings campus with about 300 people.
"Afterward I was texting him, 'Hi, I love you' and 'You did great,' " MacDonald said. "And I think he was starting to get homesick because he said, 'Mom, please get on another flight.' And I said 'Brock, I can't.' "
Brock asked his mom to get in a car and drive to South Williamsport. He told her, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
"And then my heart broke and I felt horrible, and I went out and told my dad," MacDonald said. "So we decided to pack up our stuff and go."
MacDonald, her father and mother, Kathy Watson, and daughter Boston left Billings on Monday morning and got to South Williamsport on Wednesday just before noon. The trip was about 1,850 miles.
They stopped twice at hotels along the way, in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, to sleep about four hours each time before continuing on. They also had to stop periodically so Larry could rest his bad back.
On Wednesday night, before the start of the team's third game that turned into a nail-biter, MacDonald saw her son for the first time since San Bernardino.
"We were waiting for the game to start and I went down to the batting cages and he was down there," she said. "And he just sat there and grinned at me. He didn't say much. He's kind of a quiet kid sometimes."
After the game, which the Big Sky All-Stars won 1-0, MacDonald joined the other parents and family members meeting their sons outside the players' and coaches' dorm.
"I was hugging and kissing him," she said. "It was nice."
The team will play two more games, the U.S. championship Saturday and either the Little League World Series championship or a consolation game Sunday. And then they will fly home, and MacDonald, her mother, father and daughter will get back in their car and drive home.
She doesn't mind.
"It was hard being at home," MacDonald said. "It's a long drive, but it's worth it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's not going to happen again."