WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., — There are these moments in sports that seem to transcend any field, rink or court and become so much more than the game itself.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th inning of a must-win game between Canada and Spain, 12-year-old Joey Marino stepped up to the plate. The Canadians had runners on first and second base with just one out as the marathon of a game reached three hours and 20 minutes.
Joey is the son of the head coach of the Whalley, B.C., team that earned the right to represent Canada at the baseball classic. Mike Marino stood along the third baseline watching his son bat under the bright lights of the historic ballpark.
With a crowd of more than 7,000 people hanging on every moment, Joey settled himself in the batter’s box waiting for the pitch. He smacked the ball up the middle of the diamond, sending Nate Colina sprinting to third base where Mike Marino waved his arms wildly for the youngster to head home.
Colina was safe at the plate. Game over. Canada defeated Spain 2-1.
The walk-off single by Joey sent the Canadian fans into a frenzy as the team bolted out of the dugout and onto the field to celebrate. In the middle of the pile, Joey was joined by his dad.
Field of dreams
“To be honest, as the coach with my son on the team, I try not to treat him differently from any of the other kids but when he hit that I had tears in my eyes,” Mike Marino said.
“What a moment. I’ll never forget it until the day I die.”
Proudest dad/coach you’ll meet tonight. <br><br>Mike Marino celebrates with son Joey who won the game for Canada with his 10th inning single. <a href=”https://t.co/RrgyFep64k”>pic.twitter.com/RrgyFep64k</a>
Canada now plays Mexico in another elimination game at the Little League World Series on Monday night at 6 p.m. ET.
Also watching Saturday night’s classic was Dio Gama’s father. Noe Gama was joined by about 80 other people at their local church in Surrey, B.C., to watch Canada take on Spain.
‘Writing his own story’
Dio, 13, almost never got the chance to take the field with his team after family immigration issues had their lawyer advising Dio not to travel to the U.S. to play, fearing he may not be allowed back in the country. But Canada’s immigration minister stepped in and granted Dio a temporary visitor permit to play.
Noe Gama was bursting with pride as he stood in the crowd of people on Saturday watching his son in Canadian colours on TV.
“I’ve been getting so many letters from people across Canada. I received a message from Nova Scotia. They told me how proud they are of my son. That means everything to me,” Noe said.
Noe says Dio calls him every morning and night from Williamsport to check in and get words of inspiration.
Noe Gama, father of Canadian slugger Dio Gama, just sent me these photos from their Little League World Series viewing party last night. <br><br>About 80 people gathered at their local BC church to watch Canada’s thrilling win over Spain. <a href=”https://t.co/SUsFefoSbk”>pic.twitter.com/SUsFefoSbk</a>
Dio called his father after the victory late Saturday, but Noe says his son was a little disappointed despite the team’s win.
“He called me after the game last night and told me to tell him something good because he thought he wasn’t playing very well,” Noe said. “He’s feeling so much pressure to represent Canada because of all the country has done for him.”
Noe tried to calm his son from thousands of kilometres away.
“I told him to enjoy the game and enjoy the moment. And I told him he moved a nation to get there and he’s writing his own story now,” Noe said.
Now, the team prepares for Mexico — Noe’s home country. He didn’t have to think twice about who he would support.
“Canada. Of course. My heart is with Canada,” he said.
The Canadians may not win this year’s Little League World Series. No team from Canada has ever won the title. But it’s as if none of that seems to matter anymore to the Whalley Little Leaguers.
They’ll play their hearts out the rest of the way but that game, that walk-off single, that magic on Saturday night was their big league moment — and you get the sense it’s going to last a lifetime.