SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - This is what a dream come true looks like: The 12 boys on the Ahwatukee Little League all-star team circling the bases, waving the championship banner in the air and holding the trophy above their heads.
Their feet never touching the ground.
Coach Tom Kingery, his shirt soaked from a postgame celebratory bath, answering questions with a smile that won’t leave his face for days.
Parents hugging each other, crying, taking pictures they’ll treasure for a lifetime.
And 13-year-old Shaun Chase, trying to put it all into words.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “We’re going to the Little League World Series. I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve seen it on TV. I didn’t think it was possible. It’s unimaginable.”
Thanks to Chase, nothing was left to the imagination Saturday.
He had three homers and four RBIs in Ahwatukee’s 11-3 victory over Northern California at the Western Regional final. Hunter Rodriguez and Michael Anderson also homered, Rodriguez got the win with 2 2 /3 innings of scoreless relief, and Ahwatukee became the fifth Arizona team to go to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series. The “Dawgs,” as they’re called, will play their
first game on Saturday.
It was hard to tell who was more excited — the 11- 12- and 13-year-old kids who get a chance to live out their dream or the parents who have to max out their credit cards to get them there.
“It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” said Erik Kelly, Connor Kelly’s father. “I’ve already spent close to $6,000, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything. The kids will have this with them for the rest of their lives.”
It’s easy to become disillusioned with sports, with the cheating and the lying, the police reports and the court appearances.
Little League isn’t perfect — there are too many pushy parents, ESPN cameras and overzealous coaches — but on a night like this, it still grabs hold of your heart and doesn’t let go.
Ahwatukee coach Rich Camarillo made it to the Super Bowl in 1985 as a punter for the New England Patriots. He thought that would be the most fulfilling moment he’d ever have in sports.
He was wrong.
“It’s weird,” said Camarillo, who later kicked for the Arizona Cardinals. “I know it’s not on the level of the Super Bowl, but I got as emotional tonight as I ever did playing.”
The win didn’t come easy for Ahwatukee.
The score was tied 3-3 in the fourth inning when Northern California loaded the bases with one out. Chase, who already had pitched two shutout victories in the regional, was lifted for Rodriguez.
If there was a moment Ahwatukee was going to lose the game, this was it.
But Rodriguez got a forceout at home on a groundball, then escaped without a dent in his pitching line when shortstop Scott Kingery dove for Tyler Ferguson’s groundball and flipped it to third for the third out.
“That was huge. It just changed the momentum right there,” Tom Kingery said.
Did it ever.
Ahwatukee scored seven runs in the fifth inning. Eleven batters went to the plate. Chase hit a two-run homer, Anderson followed with his three-run blast, and while the distances of the homers weren’t measured, where they landed was clear:
“When you see the other team and realize the heartbreak when you don’t make it, you’re so happy you don’t have to go through that,” Tom Kingery said. Ahwatukee will stay in San Bernardino until a bus picks up the team at 4 a.m. Tuesday for its 6 a.m. flight to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, parents will be on the phone, making reservations, finding out how many tickets they can get — and wondering when their kids might actually start school.
“We talked to my son’s teachers,” said Russ Chase, Shaun’s father. “They told us they didn’t want us back.” That’s just fine with Shaun. School can wait. He has more baseball to play.