By Fabiola Sanchez

The Associated Press

Sprague Little League falls in opener

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Representing the Northwest Region at the Little League Baseball World Series, Sprague Little League of Salem surrendered an early lead and fell to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Elmora Youth Little League of Elizabeth, New Jersey, 6-2 on Friday night.

Sprague went ahead 2-1 in the second inning when a wild pitch allowed Spencer Shortis to score and Sullivan Puckett’s single drove in Cameron Van Kempen. Pitcher Gavin Price held the lead for three innings until Elmora broke through in the top of the fifth with five unanswered runs.

Elmora’s Jayden Capindica, whose diving catch at first base started a double play to end the fourth inning, laced a line-drive single to center, scoring two and giving the Mid-Atlantic team the lead for good. Capindica later came around to score Elmora’s sixth run.

Sprague plays Saturday at 5 p.m. against the Southwest Region’s representative, Eastbank of River Ridge, Louisiana, and must win to avoid elimination.

— Bulletin staff report

CARACAS, Venezuela — More than 100 boys train daily on a baseball field next to the biggest slum in Caracas, using old bats, balls and gloves with the hope of achieving a professional baseball career in the United States and an escape from Venezuela’s hardship.

Chances are small, and getting remoter. Major League Baseball’s teams have shut down their academies in Venezuela and no longer send scouts. Sometimes, local trainers say, a player faints on the field because he has not had enough to eat, a sign of how nationwide shortages of food, medicine and other necessities inflict a heavy toll.

A junior team from Maracaibo is participating this week in the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Two Venezuelan pro players, Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers and Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves, donated funds for the trip. The team played its first game Friday, losing 10-3 to Chung Nam Little League from South Korea, considered one of the top teams in the LLWS. Venezuela will next play Saturday against Australia — which lost to a team from Curacao — in the double elimination tournament.

Still, there is a precedent for youthful ambitions. Venezuela was an incubator of major league stars like Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez, and the flair is still there. Another young Venezuelan team arrived two hours before their first game at a tournament in Mexico and ended up winning the whole contest.

“My dream came true,” said Diego Gutierrez, a 10-year-old on the Cacique Mara team that won the junior Latin America title this month. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Maracaibo, a Venezuelan city hit hard by power cuts, gasoline scarcity and other problems.

The team’s victory was a bright spot for a country accustomed to news about political conflict and economic turmoil.

The 14 players barely made it to the tournament because they did not have money to buy plane tickets. Daniel Gutierrez, Diego’s father and head of the junior team, took the boys and some family members anyway on a 10-hour bus journey to Caracas in late July in hopes of securing financial support.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez got involved with little time to spare, buying tickets after learning about the team’s plight.

“I saw it on Instagram and sent them a text and asked: ‘How can I help you guys to make the dream come true for the kids?’ They said they needed money for the flight,” Rodriguez told AP.

“I know how it is,” he said. “When I was a kid, I had a lot of invitations to play in some competitions, but I didn’t have the money to go there so I know how it feels, so that’s why I did it.”

Another Venezuelan major leaguer, Jhoulys Chacin of the Milwaukee Brewers, also donated money for the trip. Venezuela’s sports ministry and the Panamanian airline Copa then gave support.

Boys run hard, lift weights, bat and pitch in the heat on the baseball field at the Petare slum in Caracas. But strains are evident.

“It’s sad to see that the number of boys attending has dropped a lot,” said trainer Nelson Castro, who has coached for decades and shaped future stars, including Armando Galarraga.

Another coach, Pedro Quero, said players used to eat well, providing a strong base for them to hone their talents. It is different now.

“We’re seeing a lot of food that doesn’t help with the boys’ nutrition,” Quero said. “The kids aren’t growing well.”

Poor nutrition has forced Venezuelan baseball academies with limited resources to try to provide better food, including protein, to make up for diet deficiencies, he said.

Juan Jose Escobar, a Caracas resident, watched as his 3-year-old son ran around cones during a speed and stamina exercise at the baseball field. Escobar said another son, 18-year-old Anthony, signed with the Minnesota Twins two years ago.

The older son’s good fortune “was a blessing because, the way things are in the country, you can’t even give your child a good education,” Escobar said.

Diego Gutierrez, the young player who was on the winning team in Mexico, started playing baseball when he was 3, helped by his father. His new dream is to play for a major league team in the United States.

Right now, the 10-year-old is bursting with gratitude toward Rodriguez of the Red Sox for helping his team.

“Now he knows us,” the boy said.

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