Members of the Nogales Little League Intermediate (50/70) squad might as well call themselves Los Reyes.
Since their flight into Livermore, California, for the Little League Intermediate World Series, they have been treated like kings.
There was a media day, a parade downtown and hosted meals. Players were fitted for new uniforms, and each one received $400 worth of Easton bats.
And that was just their first day in town.
“I was like a little kid on Christmas,” said Mario Duarte, a 13-year-old catcher and first baseman. “The bats are really cool, they’re the best. The uniforms, oh my gosh, I fell in love with them.”
First-year coach Jorge Romero knows how special the trip is for each of his players. Nogales plays its first game in the double-elimination tournament tonight at 7 p.m. The competition is among the world’s best: six teams from across the United States and five international squads.
“It’s just a dream come true for all the kids,” Romero said. “Right now, they’re treating us like kings. The kids are just going wild right now.”
Here are three things to know about the Little Leaguers before they take the field, in need of three wins to reach Monday’s championship game:
1. Familiar place, different faces. This year marks Nogales’ second-straight trip to the Little League World Series. Not that it matters: This team is entirely different from the one that went a year ago, as is the coaching staff. There are no returners from last year’s Nogales squad.
This year’s version dominated the Western regional, mercy-ruling each of its opponents, except for the Northern California team. In that game, left-handed pitcher Aaron Solis surrendered one hit and struck out 15 batters in a 4-0 win.
Nogales sports big bats, too. The team hit seven home runs in seven games in the regionals, big numbers for any team. Consider: In last year’s Little League Intermediate World Series, there were five hit in the entire tournament.
“Our hitting has been on 100 percent this whole time,” said Jorge Boroquez, a pitcher and middle infielder who hit two homers in the regionals. “We’ve been lighting up that scoreboard.”
2. There’s a bilingual bond. Nogales’ team will experience free baseball and make new friends during the World Series. Plenty of downtime and six other games before Nogales plays have given the boys from Southern Arizona chances to mingle with players from across America, the Czech Republic, Canada, South Korea, Puerto Rico and Curaçao.
“The good thing about Nogales is we speak two languages,” Romero said. “So we can talk to kids from the U.S., Puerto Rico and Curaçao. That’s been good for us; we can converse in both languages with those teams.”
Duarte has enjoyed finding out what each of the representatives’ cities look like and what their cultures are like. He said he enjoys explaining the border town of Nogales to other teams.
3. A time for firsts. Advancing to the World Series guaranteed the Nogales players would experience something they have never done before: ride on an airplane. For Duarte, his time with the team is special; he considers teammates to be his second family. In this family, he’s getting something he has never received.
“It’s my first time being coached,” Duarte said. “It feels really good to know that you’re important to someone.”
If Nogales does bring back a title, Duarte said he wouldn’t be able to sleep for a week, and he surely wouldn’t be the only one.
“It would be awesome to know we’re the champs, we’re the best in world,” Boroquez added