Lake Oswegans watch baseball team shine on national TV
by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego Little League fans, from left, Mike Risdel, Jen Campbell, Caitlin Bracken, Anthony Dockstader, Brian Hill  and Collin Bracken (facing camera) turned Players into a giant television room for an entire week during the Little League World Series. The local kids gave super fans plenty to cheer about.

First the bad news: Lake Oswego lost 8-2 to Texas in the semifinals of the Little League World Series last Thursday.

The good news? Everything else!

What can be bad about this gutsy, talented team that kept tap dancing on the brink of disaster, yet kept staying alive to play another day. The Comeback Kids? You betcha.

Yes, they did come up a comeback short of the championship game. Just when the Lake O guys were giddy after taking a 2-0 lead, Texas put in long, lean fireballer Garrett Williams on the mound.

Williams is developing a Randy Johnson-like stare, and he already has a Randy-like fastball. The ESPN announcers announced that Williams was throwing the ball 100 miles per hour. Is that possible for a 13-year-old?

At any rate Williams was too quick for our local heroes on this day, and combined with a couple of three-run homers, the Texan tide proved to be too much.

But as hope was fading in the final inning, the Oswegans' spirit was entirely undiminished. At the very end they were jumping and cheering in the dugout.

Maybe it was because they could feel the love from back home. Certainly, their propensity for comebacks had made the Lake Oswego Little Leaguers media darlings in the Portland area. In fact, their accomplishment of reaching Williamsport, Pa., and spending a week in the big time was cause for celebration.

Most specifically at Players, the new fun and food establishment so far on the edge of Tualatin that it's practically in Lake Oswego. It's the perfect place to celebrate your team being in the Little League World Series with its countless large television screens and baseball-type food (pizzas, etc.) available.

Thanks to Lake Oswego Little League mom Jane Hill and Fox TV Channel 12 producer Corey Hanson, Players became a party for each of LO's four games.

Is Hill a baseball fan? Well, her son is named Ryne (perhaps after Ryne Sandburg?) and he plays Little League. Hill maintained the good faith right until the very end. Even when the contest began to slide away from the locals.

Did Lake Oswego have another comeback in them?

'Oh, gosh, yes,' Hill said. 'I have no worries. It's all been great. The kids are loving it, the dads are loving it from work. I love watching everyone we know and seeing them do so well, and seeing the kids' faces so happy, and how they're representing this city.'

If there was ever a Little League Mega Mom in Lake Oswego it is Jen Campbell, a member of the Lake Oswego Little League Board and the mother of four children who play either baseball or softball; which probably means that Campbell has seen more games than Cal Ripken, Jr. played.

'I practically live at Westlake Park in the summer,' Campbell admitted.

But Campbell wishes she could have seen one more game from Williamsport. She made special arrangements on her work schedule just so she could be there for the final game on Thursday.

'It's really wonderful, it's really well deserved,' Campbell said. 'The boys worked so hard and represented the league, the town, the state and the Northwest so well.

'It didn't surprise me that they did so well. They're great kids, they work hard and they have great coaches.'

The defeat left Campbell entirely undiscouraged.

'This is what youth sports is all about,' she said. 'It makes a lifetime worth of memories. Those kids will be looking back upon this for many years.'

Of course, many of the players' teammates were on hand, like 13-year-old Anthony Dockspader, who was proudly wearing the T-shirt proclaiming his team as the 2007 champions of the Lake Oswego American League.

As for the celebration at Players, Anthony said, 'It's pretty cool. But I wish I was there playing.'

Hansen was certainly enjoying the scene, even as she was running all over the place, doing errands for the party.

'I wanted to have a place for the community to come together,' Hanson said. 'It's been fun and it's been great. The game today had the best turnout we had all week. It was fun watching kids say, 'That's my buddy up there.''

The Lake Oswego gang played so well they even converted one fan. Although he has lived in Oregon for the past 15 years, Michael Larriacci is a native of Boston, and when Lake Oswego faced Walpole, Mass., earlier in the tournament, Larriacci at first stuck with his home state team.

'It was hard to show who I was rooting for (at Players),' Larriacci said. 'But then Reid Penney hit the game-winning home run in the sixth inning. Since that I've been rooting for Lake Oswego.'

Truly, the Lake Oswego guys were irresistible on the national stage; getting the bigtime treatment from icons like Brent Mussberger, Orel Hershiser and Dusty Baker and having their heights and weights flashed up on the screen, just like the Major Leaguers.

One highlight: Reid Penney set up Lake Oswego's two-run rally in the second inning by slamming a hit, which he stretched into a double. ESPN flashed up a photo of rotund Phillies slugger John Kruk. Nice analogy. Penney not only resembles Kruk, he hits and hustles like him, too.

There was one more act left in this wonderful baseball saga. Jane Hill organized a welcome-home celebration for the team for Wednesday at the city concert at Westlake Park, with autograph signing, posters, Mayor Judie Hammerstad and other surprises.

The Comeback Kids had come back home.

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