Andover bid ends with loss, pride
Little League team’s 6-week run wraps up short of World Series
BRISTOL, Conn. - With the sun peeking through a shroud of clouds, the gold-clad fans from Andover, Mass., filling the grandstand along third base at Leon J. Breen Field stood up and applauded. The salute reflected their pride and affection for a collection of young boys who bonded on the diamond and put together a six-week run to remember.
The journey that started in late June for the Andover National Little League squad ended on Saturday afternoon, one stop short of its intended destination.
Bidding for its first trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., since 1988, Andover National fell to Cumberland, R.I., 13-7, in the New England Region championship game.
“For the most part, this has been a tournament full of highs,’’ said Andover manager Paul Finn.
“This is the lowest they have felt. It was their dream to make it to Williamsport and they put a lot of pressure on themselves. It will take some time for them to get the taste of this loss out of their mouths, but they will manage and I am extremely proud of them.’’
Andover (18-4 in tourney play) received its fair share of runs and hits - including a three-run home run from Dan Gemmell, a solo shot from Daniel Walsh, three hits from Cedric Gillette, and two from Andrew Selima - but had no answer for the Cumberland bats.
Cumberland socked five home runs, plating 11 of its 13 runs via the long ball.
“You don’t anticipate a team hitting five home runs, with three coming in the first inning,’’ said Finn.
What Andover did anticipate was being in position to make it to Williamsport, the players’ dream for the last three years.
“We set high expectations for ourselves and felt like we could go a long way in this tournament,’’ added Finn. “It has been great to get this far.’’
One of the main reasons that Andover was able to get this far was commitment. Many of the players played AAU or other travel baseball during the spring.
“Since April, these kids have been playing in high level tournaments,’’ said Dan Gillette, father of Cedric, a pitcher/first baseman. “I think that really prepared them for this.’’
Andover won the district title, going 7-1, and then captured both the section title and state title, going 4-0 in both tournaments. Its only loss in district play came in the district tournament, to Andover American.
In regional play, Andover beat teams from Barre, Vt., Yarmouth, Maine, and Goffstown, N.H. Despite the loss in the final, it was an incredible journey.
The team’s experience embodied what Little League baseball is all about. The players broke up the monotony of the dog days of summer with their inspired play. They spent their summer playing a sport they love, and, more importantly, they created memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Those memories will eventually supersede the sting of falling short.
“These kids had a blast,’’ said Finn. “Not only have they bonded with each other, but they have made friends here with kids on other teams.’’
While the experience the players shared was one that will last forever, it was also a treat for friends and family.
“This was unbelievable,’’ said Steve Gemmell, father of right-fielder Dan Gemmell. “It has been a thrill for the boys and for their friends and family. We’ve all kind of taken on [the boys’] energy.
“These boys have thick skins. It is incredible how far they came. It hurts now, but they will get over the loss.’’
Along with gold T-shirts, the Andover faithful brought noisemakers, including vuvuzelas, and signs to cheer on the squad. Some fans wore blue wigs. One youth even had a giant A shaved into the back of his head that was spray-painted blue and gold.
“The support from the community had been huge,’’ said Finn. “It has been extra-special to represent our town and community here.’’
The opening ceremonies for the regional tournament were held on Friday, Aug. 5, so a number of the parents spent eight days in Bristol.
“I am a stay-at-home dad, but my wife, Dawn, has been working from here for 10 days,’’ said Gillette. “Thank God for technology.’’
The excitement of seeing their children play on such a grand stage was worth missing a few days of work.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,’’ said Steve Gemmell. “I think our bosses understood.’’
As the Andover fans filed out of the stadium and back to their cars for the two-plus hour trek home - without a trip to Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport - the excitement of the journey they took part in was still clear.
“At the heart of it, we are all just baseball junkies,’’ Gillette said.
Mike Grossi can be reached at email@example.com