SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Here’s what the kids on the Ahwatukee Little League team have done since arriving in Williamsport: Talk with ESPN. Ride on a flatbed truck in the Little League parade in downtown Williamsport and throw Tootsie Rolls at the folks lining the streets.
Participate in the Opening Ceremonies. Play pingpong, air hockey, arcade games and video games in the recreation center. Stay up late. Baseball? It’s been the furthest thing from their minds. And that’s what concerns manager Tom Kingery.
“I wasn’t worried when we got here, but I’m really worried about it now,” Kingery said Friday. “We’ve had lackluster practices. The kids haven’t gotten much sleep. They’re exhausted right now. They’re yawning in practice.”
It’s been a whirlwind adventure for the 12 kids on Ahwatukee’s team. They were awakened at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday in San Bernardino, Calif., (site of the Western Regional) in order to catch a 6 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania.
They had to get up at 7 a.m. Thursday (4 a.m. California time) to eat breakfast and get to their ESPN interviews. They were still so tired Friday they might as well have slept through practice.
You know what? Good for them.
This shouldn’t be a lockdown, eliminate-all-the-distractions business trip. This is the Little League World Series. These are 11-, 12-and 13-year-old kids.
The heck with baseball (for now). How was the parade?
“We had to wait a long time, like an hour, because we were the last team to go,” Connor Kelly said. “But it was fun. We got to throw lots of candy, and people were throwing bags of chips back at us.”
The kids are staying in the International Grove, a group of buildings that houses all 16 teams. There’s the aforementioned recreation center and a cafeteria that gets the thumbs-up from Hunter Rodriguez.
“Last night (Thursday) we had meat loaf and cheese potatoes,” Rodriguez said. “They have sausages and bacon every morning. It’s good.”
The kids all stay in the same room — they sleep in bunk beds — and as you might imagine, hygiene and a good night’s rest haven’t exactly been the highest priorities.
“A couple of kids told me they showered the morning we left San Bernardino,” coach Rich Camarillo said. “I said, ‘That’s two days ago!’ ”
Thursday night’s fun consisted of duct-taping the bathroom door so teammates couldn’t get out.
Fortunately, the tape job didn’t hold and Shaun Chase was able to escape without having to lower his pitching shoulder and bust through the door.
“It took me about 10 seconds,” Chase said.
Now that the games begin for Ahwatukee — it plays the Great Lakes champion, Lemont, Ill., at noon today (Arizona time) — the fun and games will be restricted.
Kingery pulled a couple of parents aside before Friday’s practice and asked them to talk to their kids about the need for a good night’s sleep.
He planned to turn the lights off in the players’ room at 9:30 p.m.
“They need to get their focus back,” Kingery said.
There is a championship to be won, after all. Still, it was nice Friday not to talk about balls and strikes, but meat loaf and pingpong.
For the day the kids stop having fun is when this event stops being fun.