Comeback KIDS

On the brink of elimination, the boys of Waipio rally to win perhaps the greatest game in Little League World Series history and then go on to win it all

Steve Murray
Friday - September 05, 2008
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Wapio boys, number one in the world
Wapio boys, number one in the world

Underdogs from day one, the Little League team from Waipio downs Mexico for the world title while gaining strength from a 5-year-old battling cancer

Down by a game’s worth of runs, a dozen young teens - many smaller than those standing in the way of their collective goal - constructed a come-from-behind victory of the like that has rarely been seen. Or not at all by the mother of a key player who, surrounded by adrenaline, excitement and stress, succumbed to the pressure and headed for the exit, thereby missing the most heart-stopping moment of the tournament. And it wasn’t even the championship game.


Down by a run with two outs and a two-strike count, 13-year-old Christian “C-Boy” Donahue, son of the nervous mother, hit a hot grounder to the first baseman. Spinning frantically while searching for the ball that lay at his feet and with C-Boy closing in fast, the defender located his target, but too late to make a play and secure victory. The stadium, and the entire state of Hawaii, for that matter, exploded in celebration while Mom had to wait a few days to actually witness the biggest moment in her young son’s life. Looking back, she had little reason to worry. The Waipio Little League team already had eight come-from-behind wins leading up to the U.S. Championship.

“By the time it was the sixth inning I had to leave,” said C-Boy’s mother, Raena. “I was going to faint or throw up or something, so I removed myself and sat down the hall with some of the ushers. They were laughing. They decided they were going to help me out, so they were calling out the scores to me.”

Then things got even worse for the woman who became, unwittingly, the most talked about mom at the World Series.

Waipio players wave to the crowd from the back of a truck in the Champions parade
Waipio players wave to the crowd from the back of a truck in the Champions parade

“When it got a little close I had to walk completely outside to the back of the stadium, so the ushers were transferring messages down to the bottom. When we got a little closer and started to catch up, I decided to back up to the hallway, they were telling me the scores, and I didn’t even get to see my son’s play.”

Though Raena was the only one to get a gentle ribbing from color commentator Orel Hershiser, she was hardly a solo passenger aboard this stress-inducing emotional roller coaster. Pass by any apartment building or cruise through any neighborhood and one needed only to hear the collected gasps and shouts of their neighbors to know something special was afoot. Prepped by manager Timo Donahue, who urged the kids to keep their heads up, win or lose, and by doing nothing more than playing fundamental baseball, the team combined singles, walks and smart base running to write themselves a special chapter in the history of the Little League World Series.

Donahue’s instructions were twofold. He wanted his players to be confident in what they had to do, but also to begin preparations just in case the rally never came about.

“You’ve always got to believe that it is possible, but you can’t help thinking about the odds,” says the father of C-Boy and husband of the nervous Raena. “But with this team, we kept coming back, coming back, coming back. I wouldn’t rule them out. But, then again, I didn’t want to set them up, just in case. I’m just glad I didn’t have to see that look on their faces.”

Losing at anytime during the World Series is tough. For every winner who leaps about the field in joyous celebration, there is another having to face the difficult fact that their months of hard work had come up just a bit short. But what is the most enduring fact of the nationally televised event is that for the 12-and 13-year-olds, the tears are just speed bumps as thoughts turn to the pool, game room and pin swapping.

“I think throughout the World Series you see teams getting eliminated - we’d watch them on TV, say Canada against whoever. We watched them on TV and they were crying,” says Donahue, a 14-year member of the Honolulu Police Department. “They had the dorm right next to ours. By the time they got up there it’s like they forgot about it already. I thought that was evident in every team that got eliminated. On the field they took it hard; 10-15 minutes they were fine.”


This fact was never more obvious than in the World Championship when the kids from Mexico, down big late in the game, still managed to fill their dugout with smiles and horseplay. As the officials pointed out to the parents at their first meeting, the journey begins with 6,600 teams, and only 16 make it to Williamsport. Just getting there is an amazing accomplishment.

Though the parade of batters kept everyone’s eyes focused on the field, the hearts of those in attendance belonged to someone thousands of miles away, thanks to a rally chant orchestrated by

 

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