Star Little Leaguers meet Oakland A's
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)
A team of accomplished Little Leaguers walked onto the field to cheers — from a bunch of big leaguers who admired them from afar.
The runner-up US Little League World Series team from Petaluma in Northern California joined the Oakland Athletics for stretching and pregame catch Friday afternoon before the A's opened a weekend series with the Boston Red Sox.
''Don't show us up, either,'' A's third baseman Brandon Inge yelled good-naturedly at the kids.
Petaluma was eliminated from title contention in a 24-16 loss to Goodlettsville of Tennessee last Saturday in a game that set a record for most combined runs in the World Series. They wound up in third place.
The local boys proved to be good luck for their home team, as their offensive prowess rubbed off on the A's, who later recorded a season-high 20 runs on 19 hits in a 20-2 blowout win over the Boston Red Sox. The win was Oakland's seventh in a row, also a season best.
Oakland outfielder and designated hitter Jonny Gomes is from Petaluma and has supported the town's Little Leaguers over the years. This Petaluma team — with green and gold uniforms just like the A's — captured the attention and hearts of the major leaguers.
''This is so cool. This is their dream, obviously, to be able to do this,'' Petaluma manager Eric Smith said. ''So, to just get that feel for it, be on this grass, this is great. This is perfect.''
Gomes, who was in the lineup and hit an RBI single in the second inning, wasn't allowed to give the players any gear before they played in South Williamsport, Pa., because of sponsorship regulations but he planned to hand off some baseball stuff to the boys at some point.
Before the game, Gomes sported the Little League team's T-shirt. During their games, Oakland's players gathered around the big-screen clubhouse TV to watch, roaring in delight with each win.
''That's pretty neat,'' Smith said. ''I think in the kids' minds, it's all about them getting to meet the big guys. And so the fact that the big guys welcomed them like that, that's not what they expect. It has extra meaning. ... Baseball is baseball, and if you play good baseball, I think it's appreciated by other players. The kids played good baseball for a long time. A lot of those games were on TV, so people got to see it. I think that hard work is appreciated in both directions.''
They were honored in an on-field ceremony before the game, walking through the stands to more roars, and got to run out with the A's to take their positions for the national anthem before first pitch
These young men already have had it good in recent days since they returned home. They returned to school this week, but were each recognized by Pinky's Pizza with a free large one-topping pizza for a year any time they stop by.
''I would definitely say way up there — top of the list, for sure. Look at them: They're playing with the big boys right now,'' coach Trevor Tomei said. ''I don't think anything has sunk in yet with these guys. They've been on the go since we've been home. This just adds another element to the excitement of what they've been through, and what they deserve.''
Gomes' brother runs an indoor batting cage in Petaluma where many of the Little Leaguers have trained. Gomes hopes some of these players follow his path to the pros.
A's manager Bob Melvin was impressed with the Little Leaguers who made it further than he ever did at that level.
''You think about how many Little League teams there are. It's not like in the major leagues where there are 30 teams. Little League teams, there are thousands and thousands,'' Melvin said. ''For them to accomplish what they did is pretty special. Hopefully they're as excited about being here as we are having them here.''
No question about that. As soon as the boys could start tossing baseballs amid the pros, they scurried out to left field.
''It's just awesome,'' said Hance Smith, a Petaluma power hitter and the manager's son. ''I actually never thought it would happen. It's hard to talk about. It was so cool. We never gave up. It was special because we all played as a team.''