Little League World Series

Day 9: Notebook

Umpires are people, too


Author: Teddy Cahill, Allie Weinberger and Mark Price

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date: Saturday, August 28, 2010 ET

Before you get upset about the strike that wasn’t called or the ball that wasn’t that outside, think about Peyton and Nolan Knoebel.

Peyton, 4, and Nolan, 9, of Charlestown, Ind., weren’t here all day Saturday to see Chinese Taipei, Japan, Hawaii or Texas. They weren’t here for the home runs, the diving catches, Dugout or the Chicken Dance between innings. They, along with mother Susan, were here for something completely different.

The Knoebel brothers were here to watch arguably the most unpopular person among the nearly 29,000 in attendance in South Williamsport – someone who sure gets a lot of grief just to be a volunteer – and to hold up a very desperate sounding sign.

“Please don’t kill the umpire… He’s our DADDY!”

Pasted behind home plate seven or eight rows up the Howard J. Lamade Stadium stands, Peyton and Nolan – dressed just like their dad – watch and wait, tirelessly flailing their two-foot by three-foot sign.

“We made it at Sears,” said Peyton. (“Staples,” Susan quickly corrected.)

All three were here to support father Jeffrey as he called the balls and strikes for Hawaii’s 10-0 mercy-rule win over Texas in the U.S. Championship Game, an appointment that’s a testament to his skill in its own right.

Umpires during the final weekend of play are chosen based on their performances throughout the first eight days of the tournament, making Jeffrey Knoebel one of the Series’ best umps in 2010.

But how do his toughest critics think he’s doing?

“Good,” the boys said meekly, smiling.

So please, next time you feel the urge to yell, scream, spit or cover home plate with dirt, think about Peyton and Nolan and remember, umpires are people, too.



Family connection

One of the perks the Waipahu, Hawaii, players received after winning the United States championship at the Little League Baseball World Series was getting their pictures taken with ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine.

The opportunity had a little more meaning to first baseman Ty DeSa than the rest of his teammates. Richard DeSa, Ty’s grandfather, played for the Chiba Lotte Marines, the same team Valentine managed in 1995 and 2004-09.

Richard DeSa didn’t play for Valentine, but Ty’s father Rich, said he was excited to show him the picture.

“I’m sure he’ll be really proud,” Rich said.

Though Valentine called the connection “remote,” he said he likes to see baseball lovers like the DeSa family.

Valentine has had high praise for Ty throughout the tournament. Ty is batting .333 with two home runs in the World Series.

“I love watching young Ty play,” Valentine said. “He has a very good swing and has saved about eight runs in the field.”



Parent’s perspective

Rich DeSa is expecting a close World Series Championship Game between Japan and Hawaii. Both teams are fundamentally sound and have relied on pitching to reach this stage of the tournament.

“They’re sort of like us as a team,” DeSa said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”

Japan has committed only two errors in the World Series, while Hawaii has just three.

But the difference could come down to pitching, where Japan should hold an advantage. Sunday will be the fifth consecutive day Hawaii has played, while Japan had three days off before defeating Chinese Taipei 3-2 in the International finals Saturday.

Rain and the change to a double elimination tournament this year are the reasons for Hawaii’s schedule. DeSa said he hopes Little League reviews the format after the tournament, but acknowledged the West champions put themselves in a tough spot by falling into the losers’ bracket last weekend.

“It’s a tough format,” DeSa said. “Hopefully it doesn’t come into effect tomorrow.”



Return visit

Some members of last year’s Little League Baseball World Series champions form Chula Vista, Calif., returned to Williamsport this weekend, including Luke Ramirez and Kiko Garcia.

California defeated Chinese Taipei 6-3 in the championship game last year. Garcia was the winning pitcher in the championship game, throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief and going 2-for-4 at the plate.

The teammates arrived Friday and were taking the action in Saturday. Garcia said they wanted to see the World Series like their parents saw it last year.

The players have watched the games on TV as well. Garcia noted how emotional the games seemed.

“I was surprised how competitive they can get,” he said. “It was fun watching the games.”

Garcia has watched this year’s West Region champions from Waipahu, Hawaii. He was impressed by Hawaii, which defeated Pearland, Texas, 10-0 to reach Sunday’s championship game.

“They have a pretty good chance to win,” Garcia said. “It was hard to beat Georgia twice.”



Return, part II

Donny White and some of his teammates from the 1954 Hampton, Va., team that played in the Little League Baseball World Series participated in the pregame ceremonies before the US finals.

White, who is now athletic director at Virginia Military Institute, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. White was a three-time All-Southern Conference shortstop at VMI and was also a football co-captain.

He also served in the Vietnam War, where he was decorated with the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Air Medal with four oak clusters.

Howdy!

The Pearland, Texas, fans have been loud and proud the entire week, but they had some extra help for Saturday’s United States Championship Game.

Friendswood, Texas, participated in the Little League Challenger game Saturday morning at Volunteer Stadium against Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Friendswood neighbors Pearland just south of Houston (both are suburbs). Though the two teams didn’t plan to join each other in South Williamsport, Friendswood was happy to be at Lamade Stadium to cheer on their friends from the Lone Star State.

Each year, the Challenger game features two different Little Leagues from around the country. For more on the Challenger program, read Sunday’s “Off the Beaten Path” feature.



Home, sweet home

In Sunday’s World Series championship game, Hawaii won the coin flip and chose to be the home team against Japan. In the consolation game, Texas will host Chinese Taipei.