LIttle Leaguers get big league boost for critical game today

Coquitlam’s team representing Canada at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. may have an extra boost of motivation for their elimination game against Curacao today at 1 p.m. PDT.

The 11- and 12-year-old boys spent their off day Sunday rubbing shoulders with professional ball players from the Chicago Cubs, who were in town for a special Major League Baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Little League Classic at historic Bowman Field.

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“They were ecstatic,” said Coquitlam coach Robert Piasentin of the outing to meet the Cubs’ players arriving at Williamsport’s airport, then riding with them on the bus and getting a chance to hang out and even play a little ping pong at the athletes’ dormitory.

Piasentin said the opportunity to chat with players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and North Vancouver’s Rowan Wick “was truly something the kids will never forget.”

Before the special MLB game, all the Little League teams at the tournament took part in the opening ceremonies then settled into the stands to watch the Cubs beat the Pirates 7-1. Rizzo and Heyward each hit a home run.

Piasentin said another boost will come from getting the chance to play today’s game at Lamade stadium as the tournament continues to get back on track because of weather delays.

“The boys are really excited to play in the big park,” Piasentin said of the facility, which is the centrepiece of Williamsport’s Little League complex and can accommodate up to 40,000 fans in the stands and the hillside beyond the outfield fence. “It is not every day that the international teams get to play there.”

Piasentin said the hot, muggy summer weather in Pennsylvania that often turns into storms by late afternoon hasn’t just presented logistical burdens for World Series organizers, it has also been a challenge for the kids. Monday’s forecast is for hot temperatures, high humidity but only a slight chance of a thunderstorm.

“Our boys have had to deal with staying hydrated and keeping their energy up in a much different way than at home,” he said.

Maintaining that energy will be especially critical if the team is to get past the representatives from the Caribbean Region, which opened the tournament with an 11-0 win over Australia before falling 4-0 Sunday to Korea.

Piasentin said the Curacao bats can be intimidating.

“They will be an exceptionally strong-hitting team,” he said. “Our pitchers will need to remain composed as they will most certainly get some hits.”

A Canadian win could set up a rematch with Mexico, which beat the local Little Leaguers 5-0 in their first game of the tournament last Friday. Mexico lost 5-0 to Japan Sunday and plays Venezuela at noon today. The winners of those games play one another Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. PDT at Lamade Stadium — the losers are out of the tournament.

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