It didn’t take long for Dave Belisle and his Cumberland American Little Leaguers to become immersed in the “Christmas in August” fervor that typically surfaces in Williamsport, Pa. around this time each year.
The Little League World Series is more than just games used to determine the best 11- and 12-Year-Old Major Division team in the world. From interacting with kids from around the country and world to getting fitted for custom uniforms to be worn when the actual games do take place, Belisle has come to grips with the fact that this is a major production – complete with ESPN cameras to boot!
“It’s like an international fiesta over here,” said the CALL manager via phone Monday afternoon as his New England champs (has a nice ring, doesn’t it?) were getting ready for practice. “I was talking to one gentleman and we were saying ‘Do you realize that with all the nations here (eight international clubs, plus eight representing the various U.S. regions) that all eyes in the world are on Williamsport?’
“You’ve got the whole world looking at these kids and when it comes to kids, it brings a different perspective,” Belisle delved further. “It brings enthusiasm and the youth out of everybody, it really does. It’s brought it out of me. I’m all bubbly and full of energy and everyone who comes here says the same thing. The crowds are always roaring and everything’s positive. There aren’t any negative vibes.”
For those whose interest is piqued as to why Cumberland American went straight to Williamsport from Bristol, Ct., site of the local’s rendezvous with LLWS affirmation, instead of returning to Rhode Island, Belisle went on to explain.
“All of the decisions are made by Williamsport,” he stated. “Once our game [against Andover (Mass.) National] was done, we were scheduled to leave the next day [in CALL’s case, Sunday] at 9 o’clock in the morning. They want the kids early because they have a list of things for them to do.”
One of the first official acts Cumberland American participated in was the longstanding custom of mutually exchanging pins with other teams. The local lads also spent Sunday getting sized up for uniforms and hats while Monday saw the team try on the freshly-stitched as video captured their every move at the Baseball Factory, located on the LLWS grounds. Players took turns shadow pitching and swinging and sitting down for interviews, all of which will be on display during the TV broadcasts.
A parade through Williamsport is scheduled for Wednesday with opening ceremonies on tap Thursday. Cumberland American’s first game is slated for Friday afternoon (3 o’clock start on ESPN) against West champ Ocean View of Huntington Beach, Calif.
“My utmost responsibility right now is to let the kids have some fun, then when it’s time to practice we’ll focus in,” Belisle said. “I’m not going to limit them from enjoying themselves. I want them to enjoy the moment and hopefully by Friday they’ll be at a point where they’re comfortable.”
There are enough fields at the Williamsport complex – six total according to Belisle – where participants can get in an adequate workout without having to worry about the next team standing at the gate, waiting to get in. There’s enough time to get in an hour’s worth of hitting and to devote another hour to fielding and pitching, the latter area Belisle plans to tread carefully on after his staff was counted heavily upon during the New England regionals.
“We’re going to need every arm possible,” cautioned Belisle. “They’ve got to be well-rested and ready to go.”
While the team basked in the glow of its impressive accomplishment Saturday, Belisle broke away to catch the last few innings of the West regional final. Ocean View starter Hagen Danner struck out 13 of the final Red Bluff of Northern California hitters he faced in a 2-1 win.
“We’re going to have to be ready for the gas,” Belisle noted. “The West entry and Georgia are predominantly strong in this competition and we drew one of them. Everyone is good, but when you draw one of those two babies, you know you’d better be ready.”
How the U.S. bracket works is as follows: if Cumberland falls to Ocean View, it would face the loser of Kentucky’s North Oldham (Great Lakes entry) and Pennsylvania’s Keystone (Mid-Atlantic rep) Saturday night at 8. If Cumberland wins Friday, it would face the survivor of North Oldham-Keystone Sunday at 6 p.m.
Belisle says it’s imperative to get off on the right foot of this double elimination format. There’s no pool play to fall back on, a safety net which CALL benefited from before rising to the occasion during the N.E. semis and finals.
“Put it this way, we can’t afford to fall behind early like we did in Bristol because the level of competition has shot up,” Belisle said. “We’ll see what happens Friday, but my team will compete and play hard. We just need our pitching staff to give us a couple of innings to get our feet on the ground.”
Belisle mentioned that a Cumberland American delegation consisting of family, friends and well-wishers plans to dock in Williamsport on Wednesday. Asked if his father, legendary Mount St. Charles hockey coach Bill Belisle, plans to make the trek, Dave Belisle responded, “He may try. He loves watching the games on TV, but my brothers are working on that. That would be an experience for him.”