As the players and coaches in the Cumberland American camp discovered this week, there’s nothing little about the Little League World Series.
On the surface, competing in this grand spectacle – how else would you describe an event that includes participants hailing from around the country and the world? – can seem overwhelming. ESPN cameras are practically everywhere, which CALL manager Dave Belisle hinted at earlier this week upon stating, “All of the eyes of the world are on Williamsport.”
That said, the memories accrued this week can last a lifetime. No matter what happens from this point forward, the Cumberland American players will look back at their time in Pennsylvania with great fondness.
Blackstone Valley Sports reached out to members of the three area-based teams to qualify for the LLWS – the 1980 Darlington American team and the 2001 & ’04 squads from Lincoln – and the returns were universal: this magic carpet ride is to be cherished, the moments forever frozen in time.
Below are their memories about this once-in-a-lifetime experience:
George Patrick Duffy, Head Coach, 1980 Darlington American
“When we got to Williamsport, we had won 10 in a row. We lost the opening game to a team from Belmont Heights in Tampa, Fla. [Future major-league slugger] Gary Sheffield was too much for us and we lost big in that game.
“I kind of felt bad after that game and as I’m walking back to where we were rooming, I heard this noise. It was my team in the swimming pool. They had forgotten already.
“Of course it’s different now than it was then. When you lost a game in 1980, you were put in the consolation round and you no longer had an opportunity to be champion. “We played in the consolation round and won a couple of games and won an award for our behavior. We did some things on the field that some other teams could have had a chance to do.
“I think the Little League visit ranks up there among the best. I’m about to start my 71st year in coaching and have done a lot of things and have been in a lot of championships, but it’s always special with those young people. They had a wonderful time.”
Tom Coulombe, Pitcher/Shortstop, 2001 Lincoln
“You don’t forget too much. In fact, you kind of remember the little things. I’ve watched a couple of the [regional] games and it brought back memories.
“There wasn’t much sleep that week; it was tough. All of our free time consisted of playing ping-pong and video games with the other teams. We actually spent more time with kids from Venezuela and Canada than we did with the other U.S. teams. We hit it off with those guys pretty well, which was pretty funny.
“The Venezuela kids didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Spanish, but we shared a big bathroom with them in our dorm room. One day, and I don’t know how it got started, but we had a big pillow fight with them. We were running around like crazy, but it was a blast.
“Even with the busy schedule I thought our preparation was good. There were a lot of practice fields at the complex, so we were able to get some good work in.
“I look back at it as glory days. Our coach [the late Randy Hien] used to say, ‘It’s the tournament of all tournaments,’ which is pretty much true. There are so many teams and everyone starts off in the same spot. You go through the districts, the states and the regionals and to be one of the top 16 teams in the world, it’s pretty amazing.
“We didn’t win a game in Williamsport [Lincoln went 0-3], but that doesn’t diminish the experience. As 10-year-olds we set a goal to get to Williamsport. We may have relaxed a little too much when we got there, but you never forget.”
Chris Costantino, Pitcher/Infielder, 2004 Lincoln
“At that age and playing in front of all of those people, it kind of humbles you. I was 12 and I didn’t even realize what was going on. At that age you’ve probably never been around anything like that unless you had a big-league father.
“Here you are surrounded by thousands of people, signing autographs. You’re really in the limelight and everyone down there is so great. It’s not just about baseball, but they don’t want to overshadow the games.
“Every time the Little League World Series is on and somebody finds out I was in it, they’ll ask ‘How was it?’ It’s an accomplishment even at that age.”