By Luke Ramirez
The Little League® Baseball World Series brings out so much passion and emotion from its participants whether they win or lose in Williamsport, Pa. With these emotions come the opportunity for tremendous displays of sportsmanship from the Little League teams that transcend any other level of baseball.
On Monday, the Caribbean Region and the Latin America Region were locked in a close game, with the Dominican Republic holding a 2-1 lead. Venezuela faced elimination but had runners on first and second base with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning when inclement weather halted the game for more than hour. One of the interesting sidelights of the game is that the two teams have become rather close while at the LLBWS.
“It comes from how much we’ve been hanging out in the grove,” said Latin America Region Manager Alex Ballesteros through interpreter Gilbert Morrell. “The kids from the Dominican Republic have been good friends with the kids from Venezuela.”
Pitching for the Dominican Republic was 4-foot-8, 85-pound Edward “Sopita” Uceta. In his first LLBWS appearance on the mound, Sopita - translated means “Little Soup” - had not given up a run and struck out four batters. He had a 2-1 count on his good friend, Venezuela’s Omar Romero, when the game was put on hold because of rain. It would be nearly 90 minutes before the battle would renew.
Both players have connected more than any other duo in the time spent in the Little League International Grove where the Little Leaguers® live during the LLBWS. Not only are Uceta and Romero the same height, but they share the same passion for baseball, and equally put it on display during the games.
Romero remained ready to hit during the break and took the second pitch Uceta threw him over the right fielder's head for a game winning two-run triple. The Latin America dugout exploded out on to the field in celebration as the team mobbed Romero at third base and raised him up over one of his coach’s shoulders.
As Romero rose, Uceta fell. He laid flat on his stomach, face in his palms just in front of the mound as he sobbed over giving up the game winning hit.
“I felt bad because I wanted that win for the Dominican, and I wanted to go all the way in this tournament,” Uceta said through Antonio Gonzalez.
“Edward is the engine of the team,” Caribbean Region Manager Jose Cordero said through Gonzalez. “I don’t want to talk about ‘Sopita’ because I might start crying [as well].”
What happened next at Volunteer Stadium epitomizes Little League and the bond of friendship and respect between two teams. Coaches and players from the Latin America team stymied its jubilation to console Uceta, who was still on the ground.
“Edward has a big heart,” said Ballesteros. “It could have been the opposite way, and I know that we would have been feeling the same way. I just told him that I was very proud of him.”
Then the sportsmanship spread all over the field, as players from both teams embraced.
“That made me feel good when they showed good sportsmanship,” said Uceta said through Mr. Gonzalez. “Some teams will want to push you down when they beat you, so it felt really good that they were supporting me.”
Latin America advanced to the next game, but was eliminated from the tournament by Mexico on Tuesday. Who was sitting behind home plate in support of the Latin America team? “Sopita” of course.
“We are Latin; we are like brothers,” Cordero said through Mr. Gonzalez.
When Tuesday’s game concluded, Uceta wished to return the sportsmanship he received the previous night, and was moved to console his friends. He made his way down to the Latin America team’s dugout to shake the hands of his Venezuelan “brothers.”
Stephen Keener, President and CEO of Little League International, was one of those officials who was more than happy to honor Uceta’s request.
“Every year we see wonderful acts of human sportsmanship that only kids really know how to do,” said Mr. Keener. “That’s what makes this event so special and I wish everybody could see it like I did.”
In 2016, Maine-Endwell Little League from New York urged a dejected East Seoul Little League from South Korea to take the victory lap around Lamade Stadium after they won the world championship game.
Perhaps it was that moment that inspired Venezuela to embrace the players from the Dominican Republic. Those are the moments that best represent what the LLBWS and Little League baseball are all about.