TAKING A SWING AT BASEBALL’S ELITE Little Leaguers compete in weeklong tourney in Cooperstown


DRACUT — Back in the familiar surroundings of Veterans Memorial Park, the boys of the Dracut Eagles Little League travel team made the best of their practice session.

“Bobby, get up and take some hits,” said Eagles coach Doug Paquette.

Milling around the dugout, the rest of the team reflected on their recent trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Baseball Fall of Fame, where they were part of a baseball tournament that featured elite teams from across the country.

“We played this team from California, and we were the only ones that they didn’t mercy,” said 12-year-old Justin Lang, referring to league rules that halt a game if one team is ahead by more than 10 runs after five innings. “We still lost, though.”

The Eagles, in fact, stayed close and trailed the California team 1-0 after five. California, however, scored nine runs in the top of the sixth, to put the game away. The Eagles finished the week with a 1-7 record. But they had fun, and none of the teams they will face in local competitions compares to the teams they faced in Cooperstown.

“There were like 2,000 kids who tried out for the California team,” said 12-year-old Anthony Stagliano.

“Yeah, and they only picked 12,” added his teammate Ryan Wiitala.

“We didn’t stand a chance,” said another youngster.

The Eagles brought of team of 15 players. Fundraising for the trip began last November and was conducted solely by the parents and team members. They sold raffle tickets and offered an amazing array of prizes that included tickets to the Bruins, the Celtics and the Red Sox. The total cost for the six-day, seven-night trip came to about $1,100 a person.

“The kids hung in there for almost every game,” said Doug Paquette, one of the Eagles coaches. “They did really well. They were playing some powerhouses from Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, and of course, California. These are kids who play all year long. We did well to stay with them.”

During a day off, the team got to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“We saw Derek Jeter’s cleats, but who cares? He’s a Yankee,” said Stagliano.

“Schilling’s sock wasn’t there,” they all said, referring to the famous bloody sock worn by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling during the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. “It’s on display in Boston.”

“They had Babe Ruth’s shirt. It was huge,” said Wiitala.

The most difficult part of the trip, according to several coaches, was getting the kids to get out of bed for an 8 a.m. start. “Try doing that a couple of times,” said coach Bob Purpura. “That’s not easy.”

Dorm life, a new experience for most of the kids, gave them memories they’ll not soon forget.

“Joey (Ramahlo) was walking by the fan and we threw baby powder into the fan and it blew all over him,” said one teammate, who wanted to keep his identity secret.

“Another time we threw potato chips into the fan when somebody was walking by,” confessed Lang. “It was awesome.”

There was the shaving cream in the face trick, the hand in the warm water trick — “Does that really work? asked one kid — and other good-natured pranks.

“It’s funny how nobody was admitting to it when we were there, but they’re all taking credit for it now,” said a smiling coach Paquette.

As are all teams that participate, the Eagles were inducted into the Youth Baseball Hall of Fame and were given Hall of Fame rings. They traded team pins with fellow Little Leaguers from around the country and have memories that will last a lifetime.