MANATEE COUNTY — They joked among themselves in the dugout.
They took their practice swings while standing on the major league on-deck circle. And they rounded the bases just as some of their heroes had done just weeks before.
From the moment they first stepped onto the field — with bats and gloves in hand — until the final out was made, Manatee County’s two Babe Ruth Little League teams experienced a game that the majority of kids their age can only dream about.
Heritage Harbour’s Manatee Navy and Manatee Orange teams enjoyed major league treatment when the two teams played each other April 18 at McKechnie Field — the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The game had been scheduled since late February, but as the players trotted onto the field, they couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment. From the cheers and whistles to the noisemakers and cowbells, the sights and sounds of a major league ballpark were different than their usual little league surroundings.
“In the beginning, we were all just messing around, and we didn’t really care about the game, but right before game time, we said we’ve got to focus and relax,” said Brandon Baserva, who pitched 4 2/3 innings for Manatee Navy.
The excitement of playing on a major league field quickly got the best of the players as both teams experienced a case of the jitters early. The two teams combined for seven runs, eight walks, seven wild pitches and two errors in the first inning. But as the game progressed, the two teams found their rhythm.
“All of the kids were really excited, so we had to get them calmed down and realize that they still had a game to play,” Manatee Navy manager John DiLacqua said. “Brandon relieved us in the first inning and he did a terrific job for us.”
Manatee Navy took an early 5-0 lead on five walks and a pair of hits by Michael Kelley and Dristin Hughes, but Manatee Orange fought back over the next four innings to even the score.
With a three-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, Manatee Navy fended off Manatee Orange’s late rally for a 10-9 victory.
“I had the jitters the first couple innings and then that last inning really scared me — my heart was pounding a mile a minute,” Baserva said.
After the game, the two teams crossed the mound one final time before taking pictures on the field and in the dugout to commemorate their major league debut. The game marked the first time that a youth baseball team had the opportunity to play at McKechnie Field.
“We’re very appreciative to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for allowing us to come out here,” DiLacqua said. “There isn’t a more beautiful place to play baseball around here, and it’s a really enjoyable (experience) for these kids because they still have that love for the game.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
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