Back on American soil
Though the Arabian American Little Leaguers traveled across the Atlantic to be in Williamsport, these ballplayers from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia could still call America home.

By Allie Weinberger

They traveled 6,683 miles just to come home.

The Arabian American Little League All-Stars from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, return to South Williamsport in 2005, representing the Transatlantic Region for the sixth straight year. The Transatlantic All-Stars will take the field Saturday vs. the Asia Region champions from Chiba City, Japan, in their Little League Baseball World Series pool play game, with the hope of taking their team over the hump and advancing beyond pool play for the first time ever.

What makes this group so special?

All 13 players are American citizens. These Arabian youngsters may have traveled across an ocean to get to the grassroots of America’s pasttime, but they didn’t have to go very far in their hearts and minds.

Speaking to the Saudi standouts, you would have a hard time distinguishing these boys from the Maine, California or Pennsylvania players. And manager Tommy Bumstead’s southern accent certainly doesn’t convince you that he and his players live, literally, an ocean away. The Atlantic Ocean, to be exact.

In fact, each of these players is an American citizen, but that doesn’t mean they are here representing the United States. It is Saudi Arabia that this team so proudly represents at this year’s Little League World Series.

So let’s get this straight. Sixteen Americans traveled thousands of miles to the Little League Baseball World Series to represent Saudi Arabia?

“We’re representing our league, that’s the key,” manager Tommy Bumstead said with a thick Texas drawl. “We’re here representing them, and we’re just happy to be here in Williamsport. This is the epitome of Little League Baseball.”

The Little League World Series is the ultimate symbol of youth sports. Through 2004, 492 teams from across the world, including a whopping 6,964 athletes, have competed in Williamsport. In 58 years of Little League World Series play, only one hurler, 1957’s Angel Macias (Monterrey, Mexico), has ever thrown a perfect game.

Now these Saudis want a crack at making history.

In its 12th Series appearance, the Arabian American Little League team is still trying to advance out of pool play and into semifinal round. But, the team’s 8-0 romp through the regional tournament could be an indication that this team is ready.

These ballplayers have dominated regional play in the past. Last year, this team scored 113 runs in eight games to win the right to go to Williamsport, a trip that lasted just three games.

Still, this year may be different.

“This team’s been a lot stronger than teams in the past I think,” said returning centerfielder Ryan Bumstead. “I think we’re gonna make it.”

“Yeah, definitely,” the other three returnees – second baseman Kyle Al-Sughaiyer, pitcher Alex Robinett and shortstop Matt Timoney - chimed in.

After a 1-2 record in pool play of the 2004 Little League Baseball World Series, Bumstead, doubling as both manager and dad, said the team’s main focus would be improving its hitting.

And it shows.

Last year, the Saudi boys hit a combined .190 (15-for-79) as a team over three games. In the Transatlantic regional tournament held in Vilseck, Germany, the Arabian American Little League outscored its opponents, 84-2.

Not only did they shut out each opponent through the first seven games of regional action, they won all but two of their eight games by at least 10 runs.

But Saudi Arabia’s tournament shutout did finally end – they gave up a pair in the team’s 13-2 rout of Germany in the final.

“I think this is the best team ever,” said Timoney. “[We have] more depth at every position [and] much better hitting.”

Ryan Bumstead agreed. “We have great pitching [and] we have great hitting,” he added.

“I agree with what they’re saying,” said the elder Bumstead. “I think that the key to this team is that we have strong pitching and a good defense, and that combination makes it very tough to score against. We went into regionals, as the boys said, confident that we had a good team. [We] felt that if we played up to our potential that we should be coming back.”

Some of these boys have been playing baseball and traveling to tournaments across the world together since they were eight years old, according to their manager.

That shows, too.

They are a team in every sense of the word. They hit together, they field together and sometimes they even speak together.

Like a quartet of bona fide mindreaders, the World Series veterans agreed in chorus, “We play as a team.”

These Little Leaguers have endured months of hard training, and though they may have improved their hitting, pitching and fielding, the team’s manager doesn’t deny the advantage of having four boys who have been to Williamsport before.

“I don’t think the pressure of the games will have as dramatic of an effect on this team as it has in the past. Having four returnees is a big key,” Bumstead said. “I know that they will be able to give some confidence to the rest of the players, and the rest of the players are already very confident.”

But this team knows that confidence won’t carry them through pool play.

“I think [ours is] a good balance – we have strong pitching, we have a good defense,” continued Bumstead. “I believe the combination of the two is our strength.”

What Saudi Arabia’s efforts may come down to, though, is an attempt to defy and write their on Little League World Series history.

“The three other teams in our bracket (Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean) … probably account for about 90 percent of the World Series titles over the last 30 years,” said the eldest Bumstead.

This ballpark statement is eerily accurate.

Of the past 30 World Series champions, only eight are from outside these three regions. That’s a 73 percent success rate for Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. So who is their main competition in 2005?

“All of ‘em,” the manager, coaches and players rang out, again in chorus.

And though the team is realistic about its competition, it may just prove to be the all-elusive bracketbusters of the 2005 Little League World Series.

“All three of them are worthy opponents,” added manager Bumstead. “But you know, if you wanna win this, you gotta beat the best.”

 

2005, Little League Baseball Incorporated
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