Ala. Slammer Fells Brownsburg, Ind.
Aug. 24, 1999
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ Kids act out the dream in the back yard, in the park down the street and the living room with a hook slide near the coffee table. They dream of getting the big hit, maybe even an inside-the-parker or grand slam to pull one out for their baseball team.
Lots of kids dream about it. Kyle Tidwell has done it.
Tidwell, for now the most famous son of Phenix City, Ala., won his team's preliminary round game over Brownsburg, Ind., and evened his team's record at 1-1 with a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth and last inning Monday at the Little League World Series.
Phenix City won 5-4, rallying from four runs down. Alex Acuff had a pinch-hit homer to lead off the fifth for the other run. Also Monday, defending champion Toms River, N.J., beat Boise, Idaho 4-0; Yacuboa, Puerto Rico beat Victoria, British Columbia 6-4; and Osaka, Japan, beat Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany 5-2.
Even if Phenix City does not advance to Thursday's U.S. championship, Tidwell has a story to tell when he's got a cane instead of aluminum bat to carry around. For now, he talks about his game-winning home run off Lance Lynn like it was as simple as zapping alien space ships on a video game.
``It was a fastball right down the middle. I knew I had to hit it, or Coach would have been mad at me,'' said Tidwell, 12, who has a few freckles on his face and a little more Kirk Gibson in him than he did Monday morning.
The ball just cleared the fence near a center field monument to Howard Lamade, the newspaper publisher who gave Little League the land for the park.
Depending on whom you talk to, 5-foot-8 center fielder Sean Veza either nearly robbed Tidwell or made a valiant but hopeless stab at the 208-foot line drive. His manager, Gary King, said Veza had a shot, but just got turned around the wrong way. Left fielder Justin Farley, the closest to Veza on the field, said it cleared him with a few feet to spare.
The same coach that would have been mad if the Alabama Slammer took a strike instead of swinging got mad when Brandon Monk got thrown out at second by 15 feet after what should have been a single off the center-field wall in the first inning.
``You ain't that fast. A ball off the wall, these people will throw you out every time. That's a doggone rally buster right there,'' Tony Rasmus told Monk.
Farley got Brownsburg started on its 4-0 lead with a two-run homer in the first and an RBI double in the second. But Brownsburg's players took the lead for granted, King said.
``Yeah, this is hard. We just have to go out and win the next one,'' Farley said.
The sting should not last, King said.
``They're kids. The great thing about them is that they'll be in the pool in half an hour and having fun,'' he said.
For tournament favorite Toms River, Zack Del Vento rallied from a playoff pitching slump to pitch 5 1-3 innings of shutout ball as Toms River improved to 2-0 and greatly improved its chances of reaching Thursday's U.S. championship game. Toms River plays Brownsburg (0-1) today.
Del Vento started only once and made just two relief appearances as Toms River went 17-4 in the state and regional playoffs, but struck out nine Monday night. He threw nine balls on 10 warmup pitches before Monday's game. It made manager Mike Gaynor think of the Zack of old.
``I couldn't use him. He couldn't get the ball over the plate,'' Gaynor said.
Then Del Vento began striking out his teammates in practice, and Gaynor decided to give him another chance.
``In the beginning, I was nervous, but when the crowd started to cheer I started to get pretty confident,'' Del Vento said.
Boise batters were patient at the plate _ too patient. They fell behind on the count often and made it easy for Del Vento.
``Our kids like to take a few pitches, see what the pitcher is up to,'' manager Stan McGrady said. ``It's not a strategy that we endorse wholeheartedly, but it's up to the individual batter.''
Casey Gaynor and Eric Campesi, the only returnees from last year's champions, each had an RBI single in the sixth. Campesi got the final two outs in relief of Del Vento for Toms River (2-0).
``I'm just so proud of Zack and so happy for him. He's a great kid who always works hard at practice,'' the elder Gaynor said. ``Thanks, Zack, for making me look good.''
The Boise players dyed their hair blonde for unity, but Toms River showed some style as well. Five players danced with Little League's chipmunk mascot before the game, much to the delight of a black-shirted sea of fans from their small town near the Atlantic Ocean.
Francisco DeJesus drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a double for Puerto Rico (1-0), which has beaten its last five opponents by a combined 62-14, including a 27-0 win over a team from the island of St. Martin.
DeJesus doubled with the bases loaded in the sixth to make it 6-3.
``I felt it was my responsibility, with two men on, to get those runs in,'' DeJesus said. He said his home run to the steep hillside in dead center field was his longest ever, about 300 feet.
Masato Ikeda was 2-for-3 with a double and Kazuto Adachi allowed two hits and struck out seven in five innings for Japan (2-0), which scored all its runs in the fourth inning.