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51s join in praise of LLWS success

When Mountain Ridge beat the team from Philadelphia and its much-hyped pitcher, Mo’ne Davis, on Wednesday to advance to today’s U.S. title game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., 51s manager Wally Backman and his playoff-bound players excitedly watched the game in their clubhouse at Cashman Field.

“I’m pulling for those kids big time,” Backman said Friday before the 51s’ 8-7 victory over New Orleans in 11 innings. “I think everybody in this clubhouse is pulling for those kids.”

Utilityman Anthony Seratelli, who won the Triple-A national championship last season with Omaha, already has envisioned a tale of two titles for Las Vegas.

“We were actually talking about that in the dugout. We were wondering who’s going to get more recognition if they won and we won, and we decided the Little League team would get a lot more than us,” he said, laughing. “It’s cool this town might have two teams fighting for a championship pretty soon here.”

But not everybody in the 51s clubhouse is excited about the Little League World Series. In fact, pitching coach Frank Viola doesn’t like it.

“I’m not a big fan. I just think you don’t promote 11- and 12-year-old kids like that,” said the 1987 World Series Most Valuable Player and 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner. “I played for fun. It wasn’t as it’s become — to win at all costs and you have curveballs and wreck your body at a young age trying to be a celebrity. That’s just my pet peeve.

“Not too many people get out of the (LLWS) to become successful at the major league level, and I think a lot of it is because you shoot yourself down when you’re young, or having parents put the kids in the limelight like that.

“You watch when they win or lose, here they are crying after the game. And it’s a game. Five minutes later, the kids are OK, but the parents hold grudges and get all upset and everything else. I think it’s just overboard.”

Viola, 54, began playing Little League at age 9 in his native Long Island, N.Y.

“I never took anything seriously back then,” he said. “I don’t remember how many games we won or lost. I really didn’t give a crap. I just loved playing, and I think that’s why I continued to enjoy the game as long as I did and I still do.

“I’ve got fond memories of my Little League days and my younger days, and it was not about winning.”

Backman said he doesn’t believe playing in the LLWS puts too much pressure on kids.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to excel at the sport they love to do.

“Every one of those kids on the team probably wants to play in the major leagues. It’s not gonna happen. Hopefully somebody does.”

Several big leaguers have played in the LLWS, including Cincinnati Reds All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier, who led Toms River, N.J., to the 1998 LLWS title. Representing his team that year at Yankee Stadium, Frazier stood next to Derek Jeter during the national anthem. This season, Frazier played against Jeter in the All-Star Game.

There have been only 12 players who have played in both the LLWS and World Series: Boog Powell, Jim Barbieri, Rick Dempsey, Rick Wise, Carney Lansford, Gary Sheffield, Jason Marquis, Lance Lynn, Charlie Hayes, Derek Bell, Ed Vosberg and Jason Varitek. Vosberg and Varitek are the only two who also have played in the College World Series.

Other pro athletes who have played in the LLWS include Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe and former NHL players Chris Drury and Pierre Turgeon.

While the the 51s and Zephyrs don’t feature any LLWS alumni, former Las Vegas pitcher Greg Peavey — who is 1-5 with an 11.62 ERA in six starts this season for the 51s — played for a Vancouver, Wash., team in the 2000 LLWS.

“The best part of it was the very first day,” Peavey told ESPN in 2012. “I remember it to this day. During the opening ceremonies, we got to meet Kevin Costner and George Brett. Getting to shake those guys’ hands, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I thought I made it, you know? I was 12.”

■ NOTES — The 51s (75-60) announced their season award winners, with outfielder Matt den Dekker receiving the Mayor’s Trophy, which is voted on by fans. Outfielder Andrew Brown was named Most Valuable Player, right-hander Logan Verrett earned Most Valuable Pitcher honors, and infielder/outfielder Brandon Allen received the Community Service Award. Den Dekker, who was recalled by the New York Mets on Aug. 9, leads the Pacific Coast League in batting (.334) and has a team-leading 70 runs. Brown is batting .275 with a team-leading 19 home runs and 61 RBIs. Verrett (10-5) leads the team in wins. … In a matchup of No. 1 prospects, 51s right-hander Noah Syndergaard allowed five runs in the first inning and had eight strikeouts in six innings, and New Orleans lefty Andrew Heaney gave up six runs, four earned, in 4 2/3 innings. … The 51s have surpassed 300,000 in attendance for the 32nd straight season, averaging 4,700 fans per game for a total of 310,244.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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