SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The Ahwatukee Little League team has been on the road — with the exception of one three-day stretch — since it traveled to Kingman for the state tournament on July 20.
That’s a long time away from home for a bunch of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds, but it’s also a long time for their parents to be off work. Some have used their vacation time to follow their kids. Others have depended on the good nature of their employers.
“You worry about taking advantage of the situation,” said Randy Hyden, who runs the Jones Auto Center in Scottsdale. “But they’ve (his bosses) assured me I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s very comforting to have that kind of backing.”
Greg Harden, a chief investment officer for First Corporate Credit Union in downtown Phoenix, said his board of directors also has been supportive. But he’s met parents who are getting grief from their employers.
“It causes a lot of stress,” Harden said. “I’m thankful I’m not in that situation.”
CHASE GETS NOD
Ahwatukee manager Tom Kingery said ace Shaun Chase will start in today’s opener and in Ahwatukee’s third game Tuesday, against Staten Island, N.Y.
Because Little League rules prevent pitchers from throwing in two consecutive games, Chase couldn’t be on the mound for the U.S. semifinal on Wednesday.
“The most important thing is getting out of pool play,” Kingery said. “We play three games and we need to win two of those, so we’re going to throw Shaun twice. I know he won’t be able to go in the semifinals, but we have to get there first.”
Twelve-year-old twins Sam and Scott Kingery are 4-foot-9 and weigh 79 pounds. So imagine their astonishment when they found themselves next to Saudi Arabia’s Aaron Durley, the biggest player in Little League World Series history.
Durley, 13, is 6-foot-8, weighs 256 pounds and wears a size 19 shoe. “I came up to his elbow,” Sam Kingery said. “I didn’t think a 13-year-old could be that big.”
Several Ahwatukee players are nursing injuries. Chase Knox strained his groin during practice Thursday, Scott Kingery has tendinitis in his right shoulder, Max Harden’s shoulder is bruised and sore after getting hit by a pitch in the Western Regional, and David Huls is nursing a sprained ankle.
The good news: The injuries won’t sideline any of the players.
“We’re beat up,” Tom Kingery said. “But everybody else is, too.”
Williamsport is a small city (population 30,112), so hotel rooms during the Little League World Series go fast.
Ahwatukee parent Eric Kelly said he made 87 phone calls Monday in an attempt to get all the families in the same hotel. He failed.
“We’re all spread out,” Kelly said. “Some of us are staying in a lodge 45 minutes away. But it’s pretty and serene out there.”
Just not close.
NO SCHOOL, NO SWEAT
Ahwatukee’s kids are missing school for the second straight week, but their teachers don’t seem to be concerned. The kids have been told to enjoy the experience and that they won’t be required to make up all the work they’ve missed.
Michael Anderson was the only player, in fact, who is doing any homework while he’s in Pennsylvania.
“His mom brought it for him,” Chase said.
Several players from the Diamondbacks and Cardinals taped video messages or phoned Ahwatukee’s players to wish them well in the Little League World Series.
Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, who recently bought a home in Ahwatukee, said he’s adopted the team even though it beat two California clubs in the Western Region tournament.
“It’s my hometown now,” Leinart said.
And what advice would Leinart give the kids about dealing with the media?
“They will have a ball out there,” he said. “They are 12-year-olds. They will have fun.”
CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
The fences at Lamade Stadium were moved back 20 feet from 205 to 225 feet this year and Kingery believes that will help Ahwatukee.
“We have a smaller team and we're more of a line-drive hitting team than a home run hitting team," he said. “We have a lot of speed so hopefully it will help us."