SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — For Eastlake Little League manager Rob Chandler, keeping his players moving between practices, meals and all the trappings of celebrity they’re enjoying at the Little League World Series might be his biggest challenge, ballgames included.
On Saturday afternoon, the ballclub from Sammamish fielded grounders and shagged flies, then finished practice by making acrobatic catches on pop-ups Chandler tossed over a roll of field tarp pushed against the fence.
Keep one foot on the ground or your catch doesn’t count, the boys were told.
Afterward, a circle of kids — many of them girls — gathered around a few of his boys and asked for pictures and autographs when the team was supposed to be heading to the batting cages.
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“Come on celebrities, let’s go,” Chandler said. “Hit with some passion when you’re in here.”
That Eastlake might be too loose while preparing for its game on Sunday against Westport, Conn. (11 a.m. PDT, Ch. 4) didn’t worry the Washington coaching staff on Saturday – Chandler, Matt Fitzgibbons and Jamie Matsuoka are accustomed to the team’s goof-off moments.
“They never look good in practice,” Fitzgibbons said. “I was more nervous during (District 9 play) than now. These kids aren’t under any pressure — they’re rock stars when they get in the field.”
The Eastlake starting pitcher is on a “need-to-know basis,” Chandler said, and the coaches aren’t too concerned that their players don’t know much at all about their opponent.
“We’ll hit the ball and run like a deer,” Chandler said.
“We don’t think X’s and O’s,” Matsuoka said. “We’re playing another game in the Little League World Series. They’ll have fun playing baseball.”
Catcher Cameron Bowers certainly isn’t concerned with scouting the New England Regional champions, who beat South Nashville, Tenn. 3-2 on Thursday night.
“I know they’re from Connecticut,” Bowers said. “That’s it.”
Austin Oh knew a bit more about the Connecticut team.
“I watched some games. I know they burned their ace,” Oh said. “But every team has more than one good pitcher.”
Connecticut pitcher Chad Knight threw enough pitches in a 41
3-inning, one-run effort Thursday night that he won’t be eligible to take the mound until Monday. Chandler, who pulled starter Jacob Dahlstrom after 53 pitches with a 5-1 lead in an 8-4 win over Corpus Christi, Texas, will have all of his arms available this afternoon.
Though Chandler had to yell a bit during BP to remind his guys they had to shag balls in the cages after each hitter got his whacks in, Eastlake hasn’t been swinging lightly.
“Anyone know that Tommy John surgery guy?” Chandler asked people as he threw BP. “I’m going to need him.”