The Little League of September 14 has achieved a historic course this year.
After winning 10-0 against Venezuela in Latin America Region 2022 Championship, the Nicaraguan youth baseball team of Managua broke a streak of more than five decades in secure a place representing Latin America in the 2022 Little League World Series, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year at the Little League Headquarters complex in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The excitement for the 14 players – aged between 10 and 14 – was dampened a bit after news that the US Embassy in Managua had approved a single parent’s visa to accompany them.
Luís Bravo, the father of one of the hitters, thought he was going to be the only Nicaraguan in the stadium.
After learning about travel restrictions and Bravo’s sole responsibility to provide the team with emotional support from home, members of the Nicaraguan community living near Pennsylvania showed up to fill the stands and cheer on the kids in replacement of absent family members.
According to Bravo, the Williamsport Little League sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua supporting the team’s family visa applications. Thanks to their efforts, they were able to get an appointment which currently takes months. The 33-year-old agricultural engineer and former baseball player doesn’t know why his visa was the only one approved.
“I was so excited when I found out my visa had been approved, and at the same time I felt bad for the other kids who might be feeling a little lonely,” he told Latino Rebels. “Only a few people showed up for us for the first game, but as more and more Nicaraguans living nearby knew what had happened, they drove here and we started getting more support.”
Bravo says “having more people cheering them on, singing songs for them, made the kids more confident and they played a better game.”
-Nicoya (@TrueN1ca) August 22, 2022
The Nicaraguan side ended up making it to the last six of the international round, after beating other powerhouses Panama, Puerto Rico and Japan, before losing 2-7 on Wednesday to Pabao Little League of Willemstad, Curacao, representing the Caribbean.
Bravo highlighted the constant support the team has received from families back home via WhatsApp and social media, sending messages and sharing links to broadcast the games.
“If the other families could have come, maybe it would have scored even better results,” Braov said. “At 12, you need your parents. But these children are warriors. They gave their all and went very far.
Such a passion for the sport known in Latin America as “the hot ball” proved contagious and caused Nicaraguans living in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey to drive all the way to Pennsylvania, even taking time off from work to support children. The games have become a great opportunity for the community to come together.
Dr. Rosa Castillo Krewson, a Nicaraguan teacher at American University and a baseball fan, drove three hours from northern Virginia to see the successes and races of the children, but also out of pride and support for the Nicaraguan community who , as she describes him, is rather small and sometimes only comes into contact with close friends and relatives.
“I saw ESPN reporter Sebastián Salazar interviewing the only father who could come, and I said to my husband, ‘There’s no one in the stands. We have to go,'” Castillo said.
To her surprise, she says, at the stadium she met other people from Nicaragua, and all agreed that after what happened with the visas, the children needed support.
“We didn’t know each other. The pride for Nicaragua and the feeling as parents made us show ourselves,” Castillo said. “I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for the families not being able to come. Other countries did not have the same problems with their visas.
Castillo herself hasn’t been able to travel to Nicaragua for the past 10 years, amid a Tier 3 travel advisories issued by the State Department “due to limited availability of health care and arbitrary application of laws”.
Carlos R. Pagan, director of the Little League Latin America region, says travel restrictions are in place with various countries, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says some of the embassies are working at lower capacity and appointments sometimes take months.
The league forwards letters of support for family members’ visa applications, but the final decision rests with each embassy.
“Regarding visas, Little League makes every effort to communicate with the State Department so that teams and their families can come, but each country has the authority to grant visas or not. I don’t know the specific reasons,” Pagan explained.
“Nicaragua played great baseball,” he added. “The fact that they were able to come after so long and have their five games broadcast around the world is what matters now.”
While it would have been great to have all the families, Pagan says what’s important now is that the kids’ performances are driving Nicaraguan baseball.
“I know the team learned from this experience, and it will prepare them for the future,” he said.
According to Bravo, people in Nicaragua refer to children on social media as “our champions”. He describes them as committed players who put their hearts into every game.
“I will continue to support my son and the rest of the team. They have a bright future in the older leagues,” Bravo said. “There is a lot of excitement. Expectations are now very high for what Nicaragua can give in tournaments like this.
Juan de Dios Sanchez-Jurado is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media. A Colombian writer, lawyer and journalist, he is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @diosexmaquina