There was something about the collection of ball players. Maybe it was how they all got along – how they swung the bat – their work ethic. Maybe it was that they’d honed their skills on the same baseball diamonds, in the same neighborhoods. Perhaps it was just meant to be.
“I think these kids were destined to be there,” said Anthony Lackey, President of the Petaluma National Little League. “You could see it when they were eight years old, nine years old. This is where they were intended to be.”
When the Petaluma National team edged out Hawaii in the Western Regionals Saturday in San Bernardino, it became the first Sonoma County team to ever make it to the Little League World Series. The team will play in the first round of the 66-year old tournament Thursday in Williamsport, Penn.
"My son and I have been watching the Little League World Series since he was about six years old,” said Kevin White, whose son Andrew is the team’s closer. “So it’s been a dream of his we never thought would come true.”
Maybe the team had an edge, since the players knew each other so well. Afterall, they’d been playing together for nearly half their young lives. Even manager Eric Smith had had the same coaching staff for the last five years. The stats over the last month-and-a-half told the story: 19-2 and four tournament victories.
“When you see them out there you’re overwhelmed with passion, with fear, with happiness,” said Jackie O’Hanlon, mother of catcher James O’Hanlon. “It’s surreal. It’s an amazing ride.”
The ride continued Sunday, when the team flew directly from San Bernardino to Williamsport to wait the start of the World Series. The players texted photos to their parents back home, showing off the new uniforms they’d been fitted for – new catcher gear, cleats with the World Series Logo.
But once the joy and elation of Saturday’s victory ebbed for many parents, an unexpected, overwhelming emotion set-in. Traveling to the World Series would mean booking flights and hotels in Pennsylvania with very little notice. Like the roster of volunteer coaches, it meant leaving behind jobs and obligations for possibly two weeks or more.
“My brother is a butcher and he’s going to be away from his job for 30 days,” said Tracy Tomei, whose brother is one of the team’s three coaches. Tomei told the story of one of the player’s mothers who was fired from her job after missing too much work while following the team.
“Immediately after the excitement, the sort of overwhelming feeling of ‘oh my god, am I going to be able to be a part of this?’” said Lackey of the parents’ emotions after Saturday’s game.
Lackey said donations from the Petaluma community were already rolling in. The Petaluma Boulevard Cinema planned to broadcast the team’s Thursday game on its big screen, with admission to the event going to the players’ families. A retired umpire kicked in $500 dollars for expenses.
News that the community was stepping up wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Petaluma is afterall a small town, parents said. And a small town needs baseball.
“Petaluma’s had some tragedy that’s been in the news in the past,” said White. “So to see the whole community rally around a group of kids playing baseball, it’s fantastic.”
to donate toward the team’s expenses.