© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- There was disappointment Friday, that was for sure.
But that did not stop the Harlem Little Leaguers from waking up early and taking part in a home run-hitting contest Friday morning, after having been eliminated by Worcester, Mass., in the Little League World Series on Thursday night.
Nor did it stop Harlem from playing a friendly afternoon game against the Venezuelan team, the day after both squads lost in the elimination phase of the tournament.
Friday's lesson for the Harlem Little Leaguers was that life goes on, even after a heartbreaking walk-off home run with one out in the bottom of the sixth ended their tournament run. Worcester beat Harlem in the U.S. semifinals, two victories shy of the Little League World Series championship game.
"It was great," Jeremy Lopez, a shortstop and pitcher for Harlem, said of the experience. "It's every Little Leaguer's dream to be here. We were lucky enough to make it here. I liked it even though we lost."
It was Lopez who pitched a complete game against Aptos, Calif., on Tuesday to help Harlem reach the elimination round. It was Lopez who came on in relief of Alibay Barkley to begin the third inning Thursday night after Barkley complained of a sore right arm. And it was Lopez who, after pitching well in relief, allowed the game-winning home run to Worcester's Ryan Griffin.
But that did not stop Lopez or his teammates from enjoying themselves at the home run derby, or from looking forward to Sunday's championship game.
Harlem manager Morris McWilliams said the team would remain here until Monday morning, when it will take a bus back to New York. Until then, the Harlem players just wanted to have a little fun.
"We're just trying to put the game behind us and stop thinking about it," Lopez said. "The more we think about it, the more angry we get."
Friday afternoon, in a steady drizzle, Venezuela shut out Harlem, 4-0. But nothing could dampen McWilliams' sense of what his team accomplished. Friday morning, he said he hoped Harlem's success this season would translate into more children going out for baseball next summer.
And what did McWilliams tell his team after the loss Thursday night?
"I told them we were among the top four teams in the U.S. and that that was an incredible accomplishment," McWilliams said. "The only thing we wanted to do was win our district for the first time, and we did that.
"I told them they were all responsible for all the joy that had been brought to each and every fan and parent of this team and to so many other people. And I hope they get that. I hope they understand that this was the most enjoyable time they are ever going to have in amateur sports."