Before they dream of playing for the New York Yankees, every young ballplayer envisions a day when they step onto the field in Williamsport, Pa., to play in the Little League World Series. Founded in 1947, the tournament has expanded over the years to include teams from across the globe that compete in nationally televised games.
When Riverhead Little League hosted its 66th annual opening day in late April, there was reason for optimism that this could be a special year for the boys in the 11- and 12-year-old age group — the team that would compete for Williamsport. Last year, the boys reached the District 36 Championship game with a team of mostly 11-year-olds who were returning a year older and stronger.
Beginning in late June, when the All-Stars joined together to form one team, the boys began a journey that at times felt like a magic carpet ride. With each win, and each title, the boys began to captivate a town that proudly supported them.
It was a journey that served as a reminder of what makes sports so great. Here was a group of boys playing a game they love the right way, enjoying each moment and displaying sportsmanship that some pros would be wise to emulate.
In mid-July, the All-Stars defeated East Hampton, 4-1, to win the District 36 Championship at Stotzky Park in Riverhead — for only the second time since 2008.
“It was probably the best birthday gift ever,” coach Mike Mowdy said afterward, as he celebrated his 49th birthday.
The victory sent the All-Stars into the Section 4 East championship, where, in the finals against Plainview, they pulled out a win they’ll never forget. Trailing by two runs in the final inning, Riverhead rallied for three runs and a walk-off victory that sent the team into the state tournament. It was uncharted territory for Riverhead Little League.
The moment captured by News-Review photographer Daniel De Mato of the boys mobbing teammate David Raynor, who had just delivered a two-out, two-run single, perfectly sums up the joy — the airborne coach and the players’ jaw-dropping expressions.
Although the All-Stars’ run ultimately came to an end last week in the state tournament, they will always carry those moments with them as they begin new athletic endeavors.
“I think they are the epitome of youth baseball,” their coach said.
We would agree. Thanks for the ride, boys.
Photo caption: Coaches and teammates congratulate catcher David Raynor off Riverhead after his walk-off hit against Plainview July 18. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)