In 1939, the stated purpose of Little League Baseball was to teach “the ideals of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork” to the boys of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Little League is supposed to be fun, but when the playoffs and tournaments begin, pressure starts to build.
Baseball involves winning and losing. It is important for kids to learn how to lose. They have to become resilient and learn from their mistakes and failure. When they’re down, they have to get back up.
This is the 62nd season of the Clairemont Hilltoppers Little League. In the first semi-final game of the 2018 championship series, Rays pitcher Jimmy Maravilla threw a no-hitter. The following day, in the other semi-final game, Bostyn Pallamary of the Red Sox, also spun a no-hitter.
Base on balls (walks) are part of the fun (and frustration) of Little League. Coaches look for kids with control who can get the ball over the plate. The maximum number of pitches a Little Leaguer can throw in a seven inning game is 85 which makes no-hitters unusual.
11 and 12-year-olds can typically throw 50 to 60 mph. The Little League pitching distance is 46 feet. League Information Officer Ken Cicalo estimates Jimmy and Bostyn both throw about 60 mph.
Hitting good Little League pitching is pressure. Maravilla and Pallamary can bring the heat.
These young aces were scheduled to meet in the championship game on May 30, 2018. A Hollywood matchup, but, in the game of life, scripts can go sideways.
Bostyn Pallamary broke his arm while skateboarding. Prior to the championship game, he stated bluntly, “I was mad, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to play. I thought my shoulder was dislocated, but it was broken. Caleb will do fine.”
His replacement, Caleb Bruff, was surprisingly relaxed. “I was thinking to go out there and have fun. It didn’t matter if we won or lost as long as we played our hardest and played as a team.”
Prior to warming up before the big game, Jimmy Maravilla spoke like a major league veteran. “It’s the championship game and I want my teammates to be proud.”
His Rays scored quickly in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead, but Red Sox hurler Caleb Bruff pitched courageously until surrendering two more runs in the fourth to hold the score at 3-0.
Although Jimmy Maravilla allowed 3 hits, the young fireballer had a shutout going until the sixth inning when he reached his 85-pitch limit. His younger cousin, Joshue Maravilla, got roughed up for 4 hits and 4 runs in that frame, but made it through the seventh inning without additional damage.
Because, Bruff had held off the Rays and had the lead with one out in the seventh, it looked like the Red Sox might pull an upset when he reached his pitch limit. Then the ball took a few bad bounces and the Rays won the championship, 5-4.
After the game, Jimmy Maravilla was smiling, but speechless. His younger brother, Julian, spoke up for him. “I’d like to thank my mother. I’d like to thank my father.” Jimmy took over, “I want to thank my teammates, my parents, my coaches. We won!”
Cousin Joshue meekly added, “I thought I lost the game, but we came back.” Joshue even got credit for the win in the scorebook.
Their coach, Mike VanCleave, announced the future tournament schedule and strictly admonished his boys, “No scooters. No skateboards. No trampolines.”
VanCleave has been with Clairemont Hilltoppers as a player and coach for 50 years. His brother, Les, has been with the league almost as long. Anthony Valentine, also played with the Hilltoppers and became an umpire. He’s been at it for 37 years. There is a feeling of family at Clairemont Hilltoppers Little League.
Bill Salons is the league president… a position he’s held for 20 years. His kids and grandkids all played at Clairemont Hilltoppers. They used to have a softball league for the girls, but now the girls play baseball. Ken Cicalo estimates there are fifty girls in the league, but none were in the championship game.
Hilltoppers alum Ken Henderson had a successful 16-year career in the big leagues and Mike Winters has been a major league umpire since 1988.
After the game, Red Sox coach Justin Pallamary was philosophical. His team ended the year in the cellar with a record of 4-12, but almost won three straight in the playoffs to claim the title.
He was proud of his boys. “During the season, I rotate them through all the positions. I want them to learn how to play the game.” He even used a left-handed second baseman, Hudson Gartland. It’s not every day you see a left-handed second sacker field a sharp grounder and throw out the runner at first base.
Criticism is frequently leveled at obnoxious Little League parents and overbearing coaches.
The Little League founders would have been proud of the Hilltoppers kids, fans and coaches. They demonstrated good sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork. Significantly, there was no complaining about the umpires from the stands or the dugouts.
The Clairemont community is justifiably proud of the Hilltoppers Little League program.
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