NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. – George Long will soon forget the losses, but the Sydney Steel Kings manager will cherish the memories of taking his Nova Scotia club to the Canadian Little League championships.
“What keeps me going is the kids, the smiles on their faces and stuff like that,” said Long, who has been coaching baseball from youth to the college level for 15 years. “We ain’t getting rich coaching these games.”
Long’s attitude is shared by other managers and coaches in the six-team tournament, which will determine Canada’s qualifier for the Liitle League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., later this month. It’s what keeps them involved in the sport year after year, often when their own kids are too old to play at the 11-12 age level.
“Personally, it means a lot (to be at nationals), because I’m giving children an opportunity to experience this – a week with the billets, stuff like that, that’s what it’s all about,” said Long, 40, who works in a Sydney hotel’s accounts payable department.
Long also values relationships with other coaches and parents from previous tournaments across Canada, with whom he still keeps in contact. Consequently, he was not overly upset after Sydney’s 5-1 loss Tuesday to Toronto’s powerhouse High Park squad that effectively eliminated the Maritime representative from the playoff round.
Long’s club remained winless after four games while High Park (4-0) remained unbeaten. Based on the remainder of the round-robin schedule, a team will need at least two wins to qualify for Friday’s semifinals, and Sydney only has one game left.
“The competition is a lot tougher than back home – definitely,” said Long.
But even after his forlorn players rolled their equipment bags out of the dugout to meet awaiting parents, Long had “no complaints.”
“I don’t feel bad,” he said. “The guys really performed today. Playing Ontario, a 5-1 loss is pretty respectable against a tough opponent. So I feel good.”
High Park scored four runs in the first inning but had to rely on timely pitching to keep the sixth inning scoreless after Sydney loaded the bases in its final at-bat. The decent showing against High Park came two days after Sydney lost a 2-1 squeaker to Langley, B.C., which, with only one loss heading into Tuesday’s play, was considered a strong favourite along with the Toronto club.
Sydney, a team which included five 11-year-olds, qualified for nationals by ousting perennial Nova Scotia powerhouse Glace Bay in provincial play and then beating Lancaster, N.B., for the Maritime crown. Long said his team will use this year’s experience to come back stronger next year.
“It’s been seven long years since this age group has performed at this level,” said Long. “We have five kids returning for next year. It’s a stepping stone, a building block and, hopefully, we’ll put on a better show next year. I’m really proud of these guys. Sydney is getting back to the winning ways that we used to (have).”
Long guided Sydney the 2003 Canadian semifinals, but Glace Bay, a five-time champion, is the only Nova Scotia organization that has won a national title. This marks the third time Long has brought a team to nationals and the 11-12 age level. He has also guided five other clubs of vary ages to nationals.
The success came after he started coaching by accident when his son Ken, 21, now a Steel Kings coach who also plays at the senior men’s level, was just six years old.
“I was up in the stands, just watching the coach have practice with the six-year-olds and saw that he was struggling, because he was the only one out there,” Long recalled. “Parents were complaining, so I jumped off the bench just to give him and hand, and I got hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since.
“My philosophy is, if you don’t like how things are being done, get off your hands and help out.”
That also explains why he – and many other volunteers – stay involved in Little League.
“My son, he still talks about his times in Little League and billeting with families, and that’s what it’s all about, just giving the kids experience,” said Long. “That’s why I push hard for it.”
In other action Tuesday, Trevor Alcos’ solo fourth-inning home run gave Langley a 4-3 victory over Valleyfield, Que. Langley improved to 3-2 while Valleyfield’s record was evened at 2-2.
Later, host Mt. Seymour of North Vancouver improved to 2-2 with a 5-3 win over Calgary’s Rocky Mountain All-Stars (1-3).