The town of Middleborough, Massachusetts (or Middleboro, depending on who is spelling) has a strong baseball tradition. John Cannavo compares it to a well-known weekend right of passage from down South.
“I guess the best analogy I can give [is] baseball is to Middleborough as Friday night football is to Texas,” said Cannavo, the president of the team’s board of directors.
So it’s no wonder that the journey of Middleboro Little League (the team uses the “oro” spelling) to this year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is a pretty big deal. The town last sent a team to the series back in 1994, and Massachusetts hasn’t had a representative in the tournament since 2009.
It’s been a long road for the squad of pre-teens who will now be in the national spotlight as one of 20 teams — 10 from American states and another 10 of international competition — all vying for Little League’s biggest prize. And for this year’s team rocking maroon and powder blue uniforms as the representatives of the New England region, the tour has been a bit of a whirlwind. To earn the ticket to Pennsylvania, Middleboro had to win its district, then win sectionals, then win the state tournament (which it lost last year) and, finally, they had to win the New England regional last week.
Something that was in Middleboro’s favor this year is the restructuring of teams in the New England region, which no longer includes Connecticut and Rhode Island. Four states of competition is a lot easier to get through than six.
“It takes incredible talent, incredible skill, but when you’re playing against the best competition, sometimes it’s just a little lucky,” Cannavo said.
Now, for about a week and a half, the biggest show in baseball comes from some of the game’s smallest players. There’ll be wall-to-wall coverage from ESPN, highlights that will make the rounds all over social media, and stories that will make for the sickest humblebrags when the players get back to school.
“Baseball is to Middleborough as Friday night football is to Texas”
Manager Chad Gillpatrick doesn’t know if his players fully realize the enormity of the moment. But he knows it’s a dream come true for them to be here.
“They accomplished something, you know, that not a lot of people are gonna have that opportunity to do,” he said with a laugh. “I think they get it that it’s a team game and I think that’s what they grasp. It’s been a fun two weeks with these kids, we haven’t been home in a while and … I think they’re starting to notice, like, this is a special time and you know it’s something they’ll never forget.”
It will be a uniquely memorable time for Gillpatrick and coaches Glenn Marzelli and Joe Trottier, all of whom have sons on the team.
“Us coaches, we’re lucky to be here, be in the dorms with ’em and just be with ’em for everything we do from the time we wake up ’til the time we go to bed and experience it and see the smiles and excitment on their faces and the joy they have,” Gillpatrick said.
Middleboro starts its last stretch on what’s already been a long road when it takes on the Southeast Region team from Nolensville, Tennessee, in the second game of the tournament on Wednesday. And while the team is focused on bringing the trophy home to Massachusetts, in many aspects, they’ve already won a lot.
“Obviously, the goal is to, you know, win it all,” Cannavo said. “But the reality is, to be one of ten teams in the United States to make it this far is an accomplishment of a lifetime. The players, the families, are gonna have memories of a lifetime. The town will be proud of this team for what they’ve accomplished regardless of what happens the rest of the way. I don’t want to say everything else is gravy, because you do want to win, but the reality is everything is a bonus at this point in time.”