It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Stretching the analogy further, sometimes it takes a city to raise the necessary funds to send a history-making softball team halfway across the country.
Lake Air didn’t reach the Little League Softball World Series on its own.
Oh, of course the players and coaches are the people most responsible for Lake Air winning the games necessary to qualify for the World Series, which commences Wednesday in Portland, Oregon. But the team’s historic journey wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance from a variety of monetary gifts from people throughout Waco.
Before the Lake Air players ever left for Oregon, a group of five local banks presented the team with a $5,000 check to offset travel expenses. Other donations have poured in as well.
Such gifts make Lake Air manager David Rodriguez feel even more connected to the Central Texas community.
“We’re so grateful to the community for everything it has done,” Rodriguez said. “For the most part, it has taken care of the expenses in getting the girls and their families flown out here. The community has really rallied behind us. … We’re happy, excited. I expected that people would support us, but we’re very grateful, because it’s gone above and beyond anything we could have expected.”
Upon arriving in Portland on Monday, the Lake Air team was swept away by a pair of limousines to Alpenrose Field, where the players were measured for new uniforms. On Tuesday, they participated in a lively skills challenge and the World Series opening ceremonies.
All the hoopla and frivolity has been fun, to say the least. But now the Lake Air team is ready to get down to business. They want nothing more than to win the championship, and restore the lustrous softball legacy to the Waco area that hasn’t been seen since Midway was dominating the World Series in the 1990s and early 2000s, winning 11 titles from 1992-2004.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Rodriguez said. “The hospitality has been high, and the girls have had some time to relax, get to know some of the other teams. … Believe it or not, right now they’re not focused on softball, just enjoying the moment and where softball has taken them.”
Lake Air believes it has a team that can get it done. Over the course of the summer, Lake Air has proven powerful both at the dish and in the circle on its way to a 15-1 record. At the Southwest Regional Championships last week in Waco, the team capitalized on its home-field advantage, winning four games by a combined score of 50-3.
In its World Series opener on Wednesday, Lake Air will find itself on the other end of the home diamond advantage, as it will face Beaverton, Ore., at 3 p.m. Central time.
No matter, Rodriguez said. Nobody expected the road to be easy.
“Oregon is the first team off the bat, and they’ve got a lot of support. They’re within minutes of the fields here,” he said. “We definitely know how that can be an advantage, but sometimes it can be pressure, too. We’ve just got to go out and play ball.”
The 10-team tournament is broken up into five-team pools. Lake Air is in pool B along with Oregon, the Asia-Pacific champion from the Philippines, the Central region champion from Indiana and the Latin America champ from Puerto Rico.
Pool play will continue through Sunday, then the elimination games will commence. The championship game is slated for 8 p.m. Central on Aug. 16, and will be televised on ESPN2.
A lot of softball will unfold between now and then. Lake Air can’t wait to represent Waco and the Central Texas area to the best of its abilities.
“Obviously these teams are the best in the world, champions already,” Rodriguez said. “If we continue to adjust to the pitchers we see, play good defense, I think we’ve got a good shot to go deep. We know that District 9 has prepared us well to get to this point. We’re just trying to work hard and do what we do best, not beat ourselves.”