Jays welcome Little Leaguers with their own jerseys
* The Canadian Little League champions from Hastings, B.C. took the red-eye from Edmonton to Toronto and found a special surprise when they arrived at Rogers Centre: their own jerseys with their names on the backs ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
It doesn’t get much better for an athlete than to taste such sweet victory that no option remains but to take a giant jug of ice cold water and dump it all over an unsuspecting coach.
Unless you happen to be the little league team from Hastings, B.C. They were able to have that experience on Saturday when they took the Canadian title and secured their spot in the Little League World Series. Then in that case, it does get better.
Rumours ran rampant during the tournament in Alberta that the winning team would get the opportunity to fly to Toronto on the way to Williamsport, adding fuel to the fire of the young players.
“We were told that the winner of the nationals would come here and meet the Blue Jays,” 12-year-old Matteo Porcellato said from Toronto’s dugout early Sunday morning.
“That made us hungrier,” Porcellato’s teammate, 13-year-old Steven Moretto, said.
The group of 12 young boys and their three coaches flew overnight from Edmonton to Toronto, not catching much shuteye on the redeye.
“They’re running on adrenaline right now,” Hastings coach Vito Bordignon said. “The second wind is kicking in. Since we got up (Saturday morning), they’ve gone straight through. So it’s over 24 hours now.
“Then we’re going to Williamsport, directly there and we should be there at about 10 o’clock. These guys will be pretty tuckered out by then.”
They didn’t seem to mind their hectic schedule.
“Everything’s too exciting to sleep,” Porcellato said.
The best moment of the day happened after the young squad arrived at Rogers Centre around nine o’clock on Sunday morning. Before being treated to a private tour of the ballpark, they were surprised with a gift from the Toronto Blue Jays.
“The most exciting part of the day and being here is when we first saw these jerseys,” Noah Hanson-Stafford said.
The jersey is an extra special keepsake for Hanson-Stafford because the Blue Jays managed to fit all of the 14 letters of his last name, plus the hyphen, across his back. The 13-year-old momentarily took his jersey off to reveal that his team shirt can only fit ‘H-S’ on the nameplate.
While the whole trip was supposed to be a surprise for the winning team, the coaches were overjoyed with the effort the Toronto organization put forward to welcome them, shocking even them with the official attire.
“I think getting those jerseys was pretty special,” Bordignon said. “They didn’t expect that. Neither did I. I didn’t know that was happening. That was really special.”
The little league fun on the field was the beginning of Canada Baseball Day at Rogers Centre as the organization acknowledged baseball north of the border throughout the entire afternoon matchup against the New York Yankees.
Young players from across the country were introduced in between innings, highlights of Blue Jays instructional camps from earlier this season were shown, and Canadian baseball accomplishments and events were presented.
Toronto recognized Team Canada’s gold-medal finish at the Pan Am Games in October, the women’s national team currently competing in Edmonton at the Women’s Baseball World Cup, the conclusion of the Canada Cup, the junior national team heading to Seoul, Korea, at the end of the month for the world championships, and the upcoming World Baseball Classic qualifier.
The Blue Jays also focused attention on all of the young Canadian players down on the farm, and also the Canucks who have spent time with the franchise through its history.
The recognition will continue for the day’s special guests as the national champs head to Pennsylvania for the World Series. The tournament begins on Thursday and Bordignon has some time to prepare his team for what they can expect on the LLWS stage.
“I’ve been there before as a coach and we have to try and keep them focused,” he said. “Treat the game like it’s any other game. You’re on a different field and that’s all it is. Stay focused and play the game you’ve been taught all your life.”
Bordignon has the benefit of having some very mature players on his team, including Hanson-Stafford, Moretto and Porcellato, to help make sure that cooler heads prevail when the competition heats up.
“All of us are very good at helping out the rest of the team,” Hanson Stafford said. “We get other people to shake it off and get other people up for games.”
Added Porcellato: “If a bad play happens or something, we cheer them up, talk them and we get the game going again. We try to get them excited and get them pumped.”
The roster of young men is certainly pumped for what lays ahead in Williamsport, and their coach believes that they can put together a successful tournament.
“I expect them to battle every single game and be very strong,” Bordignon said. “I think this is a good bunch of kids and I think that once they get on that field, they’ll realize that they’re just as good as anyone else.”
They just might need to get some sleep first.
“We can sleep on the bus,” Hanson-Stafford said. “We all get our own aisle seats. It’s a big bus.”