Sunnyside’s dream of making the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., nearly came true last year. This time around, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no team in the world will be able to live out those aspirations.
Little League International announced today the cancellation of the Little League World Series at Williamsport in August, but it did not call off the regular season yet. Little League president Stephen Keener mentioned in a statement teams might still play this spring and summer, depending on restrictions in states and localities.
Regional tournaments and the championship tournaments in all Little League divisions, including softball, have also been canceled.
Little League announced in March that the season was on hold until at least May 11 because of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against gatherings of 50 or more people. After that date, districts and leagues will look to states and localities for guidance on when or if the season could start.
Keener urged districts to hold all-star tournaments to give kids at least a taste of the competition they’ll be missing with World Series qualifying scrapped.
Carl Thompson, Arizona’s Little League state chairman, mentioned to our Andy Morales that teams locally “have the ability to play once it is deemed safe by our state government.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey yesterday extended his social-distancing and stay-at-home policies through May 15.
“The state organization will also be looking at the possibility of hosting state tournaments if interest and safety can be secured,” Thompson mentioned.
Concerns over safety expressed by some in local Little League organizations include proximity of players and coaches in dugouts and the sharing of equipment, including catcher’s gear.
Last year’s run by the Sunnyside Little League Majors team made them similar to rock stars in Tucson.
They were guests at restaurants, including AllSportsTucson.com’s gathering at Frog & Firkin. They were present last August at a meeting of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who declared that day after them. About a month after that, the Tucson City Council, at its meeting, recognized their accomplishments.
They also gathered in front of members of their southside community with an event at Mission Manor Park, where their aspirations all started on the practice fields there. Close to the end of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ season last year, they stood along the third-base line at Chase Field as guests before a game against the Cincinnati Reds.
The Appreciation Tour of the Sunnyside Little League Majors team that played in the West Regional championship game will bring back fond memories for years to come.
They were so close to reaching the Little League World Series at Williamsport, after having to win an elimination game three consecutive games — including the dramatic win over Northern California in the semifinals behind a game-tying home run by Izaiah Moraga in the last inning followed by a walk-off double by Michel Muñiz Jr.
Infielder Francisco Rivero Jr. , son of coach Francisco Sr., would have been eligible to try to make the World Series at Williamsport again this year. The other players, including Moraga and Muniz, would have played for Sunnyside’s 50/70 team comprised of 13-year-olds.
Most of Sunnyside’s Little League divisions, including the Juniors and Seniors, thrived last summer, reaching their respective West Regional similar to the Majors team. The Seniors team had 16 of its 20 players returning, primed for a run to a championship.
Last summer was a glorious time for the southside of Tucson and the city in general, appreciating the accomplishments of these teams and the state champion 11U Oro Valley Little League team (that did not have a regional in which to compete).
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.