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Little League World Series is a family affair
"Kevin Gent just couldn't keep his mind on the needs of his clients during business meetings, the week before last in Oregon and Montana.Several times an hour, Gent, who operates his own Seattle-based architecture firm, would excuse himself, duck into a quiet hallway and call up a fellow Bainbridge Island Little League parent on his cellular phone to get updates on the All-Star team's Northwest Region tournament contests in San Bernardino, Calif.Mike Baggett, BILL's vice president of baseball, was often the one providing radio-quality play-by-play from the sun-soaked stands and offering a little good-natured color commentary when Gent's son, Dalton, came to bat.Now Don (manager French) is pulling Dalton aside, Baggett said with a broad smile. It looks like Dalton's crying. It looks like Don's giving him a big kiss because Dalton says he's not getting enough of his daddy's love.Good-natured the teasing may have been, but to Gent such a moment showed just how much he and many fellow player parents have had to struggle to juggle the often irreconcilable demands of time, money, jobs and family as Bainbridge's road show nears its one-month mark with the beginning of Little League World Series play in Williamsport, Pa. today.The people I was working with were pretty sympathetic, and thought it was really cool, said Gent, who's coached regular-season and All-Star teams featuring Dalton, 12, and older son Brenden, 13.But they also appreciated that I didn't just blow off all my responsibilities and come down (there), he added.Despite that, he conceded that the stress of trying to juggle and manage all of our commitments on such short notice has been very difficult.The costsNow that Bainbridge has become of one of just eight teams in the United States to reach the penultimate event of world youth baseball, the parents of the team's 13 players face as much as another 10 days as amateur sports traveling secretaries, seeing how much further they can stretch already strained finances and nerves.Baggett estimated that each family may be out as much as $10,000 apiece on air travel, lodging, meals and other expenses over the course of more than four weeks that's taken them from Chimacum to Walla Walla to San Bernardino to Williamsport. But the citizens of Bainbridge Island, charmed and delighted with the sight of seeing their youthful scions seize an unprecedented regional championship on national television, have taken the 11- and 12-year-olds to their hearts and opened their wallets.Fundraising efforts have already approached the $20,000 mark, topped by Wednesday's gift of $10,000 from John L. Scott Real Estate. More cash continues to pour in every day, grateful player parents reported.The familiesThen there's the finagling of family time.Sam Sharar and Lynn Oliver, the parents of player Rudy Sharar, had planned a trip to Maryland to see the grandparents of Rudy and his younger sister Rebecca the week of the San Bernardino tournament. Like many, including some of the players themselves, they never anticipated the All-Stars' success would take them this far.Even though the couple was eventually able to arrange for siblings and one grandparent to come to San Bernardino to see a contest or two of the All-Stars' six-game sweep there, we wound up eating four plane tickets to the East Coast, Oliver said.The cost was more than that, as Sam, like Lynn an associate professor and a working physician through the University of Washington's School of Medicine, had already twice driven back and forth between Walla Walla and Seattle during last month's state tournament to clear the work decks for his vacation.Meanwhile, Lynn, a family practitioner, made dozens of phone calls from San Bernardino to shift patient appointments around to days between games and tournaments.I've woken up every night at 3 a.m. for a month, wondering how it's all going to work out, Oliver said. Worse than that, however, is the toll on everyday family life, she said. Rebecca, 9, has missed soccer lessons, tennis lessons and time with her friends at home. And her mother's heart nearly broke when Rebecca quietly complained one day in San Bernardino: I feel like a piece of luggage.Manager Don French had a similar story. Between games in Walla Walla, the tugmaster for Seattle's Hurlen Construction drove back and forth twice to a project he was managing in Vancouver, catnapping at his Bainbridge home before returning to Eastern Washington a few hours before game times.Once the All-Stars won the state championship, however, Hurlen gave him time off for the remainder of Bainbridge's run and even donated $1,000 toward team expenses, French said. But that didn't solve a different and potentially more damaging problem. In fact, when interviewed Monday night in the joyous aftermath of Bainbridge's Northwest Region championship game to advance to the World Series, the first words to come out of his mouth were a lament for the time lost in the last several weeks with his youngest son Gary, 11.He doesn't get to see his father much anymore, and that hurts me a lot, French said quietly.The challengeBut Bainbridge All-Star parents, like their player sons, are a resilient bunch.Few will ever experience the special bonding process that goes on between adults who might not otherwise be friends, many say. And it's that togetherness, which a few half-jokingly liken to the relationships between soldiers during wartime, that has formed them into a tightly knit organizational unit.Working out the logistics of air travel, lodging, meals, ground transportation and unplanned miscellaneous expenses is a daunting enough task for a solo sojourner. The thought of doing that on a mass scale for the family of more than 40 parents and children forced the All-Star parents, by necessity, to delegate tasks to one another with swift efficiency.Linda Stevenson, mother of player Robby Stevenson and wife of coach Greg Stevenson, serves as the group's majority whip, assigning tasks to particular parents based on their abilities and availabilities. Today, on the first day of play in Pennsylvania, the many cogs have come together as a well-oiled machine. A few prominent examples:Debbi Leslie handled thank-you notes to those who, big or little, helped pave the team's way.Sandy Glass, mother of player Tal Glass, handled the majority of airline and ground transportation, often rounding up bargain-basement group rate fares. For example, her efforts got each Williamsport traveler an open-ended round-trip between Seattle and Philadelphia for just $259.30.Sam Sharar and Lynn Oliver serve as the group's designated hotel finders and Internet detectives.Gary and Vikki Hurt, parents of player Austin Hurt, ensured that each team member had iced towels during game breaks in often searing heat.David and Diane Beck, parents of Adam Beck, bought Bainbridge-logo polo shirts for each of the coaches.Dave Leslie, father of Peter, was among many who helped plan team meals and parties.Kevin and Roxanne Gent made and managed the team display banners.Jack and Karen Huisinga, parents of player Peter Huisinga, made sure team members had gifts to exchange in a pre-game ritual for each of the six teams Bainbridge faced in Southern California.Karen, a nurse practitioner, also played a key role in helping Michael Heald become eligible for the San Berdardino tournament - and now the World Series. Heald suffered a foot injury soon after being named to the All-Star team. With his lower leg encased in a cast, he missed the entire district tournament. To be eligible for regionals, he needed to play in one game at the state tournament. Which meant the cast had to come off.One problem: Huisinga couldn't find a cast cutter in Walla Walla. But typical of the resourcefulness shown by the entire group of parents, she found a substitute: a bone cutter at the local morgue. Shorn of the cast, Michael gained his necessary game time and played at San Bernardino. I think that because the tasks have been spread and shared by all, we have been able to make very smart decisions, Linda Stevenson said. No single person has been overloaded.And as a result, at each tournament we seem to be the only team whose entire parent and fan base has been centrally located in the same hotel, she added. We think this has been a key component to our success in providing our boys the best down-time possible.Greg Stevenson said the players have actually been role models for the parents in this regard.The kids are the same way, he said. There's absolutely no cliques. And the few little spats they've had are ironed out within minutes. They're all good friends, and if they weren't here, they'd be back on Bainbridge Island, playing with each other. Like us, they're all in this together.The payoffAnd for that reason, whatever is lost in appointments, time and money, every parent agreed that gaining the World Series berth has made the effort to get there worth any loss.In Gent's case, for example, being self-employed means he has more flexibility over his time. But it also means that he doesn't get paid vacation time.We're closing our eyes now and assessing the damage later, Gent said. It's that important for us to have at least one family member there with our kids at all times. Knowing we're there and seeing us in the stands on a daily basis gives us - and them - a lot of comfort.Some of us have talked about what would happen if our bosses said 'no' to us about taking more time off, Gent added. And we have said 'Maybe I'll quit' because the overwhelming perception that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal is that strong. "