14 de Septiembre Little League made a historic run this year.
After winning 10-0 against Venezuela in the 2022 Latin America Region Championship, the Nicaraguan youth baseball team from Managua broke a more than five-decade stretch by securing a spot representing Latin America in the 2022 Little League World Series, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year at the Little League headquarters complex in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The excitement of the 14 players —ranging in age from 10 to 14 years old— was a bit dulled after learning that the U.S. Embassy in Managua approved the visa of only one parent to accompany them.
Luís Bravo, the father of one of the batters, thought he was going to be the only Nicaraguan in the ballpark.
After finding out about the travel restrictions and Bravo’s sole responsibility in providing the team with emotional support from back home, members of the Nicaraguan community living nearby Pennsylvania showed up to fill the stands and cheer for the kids as substitutes for their absent family members.
According to Bravo, the Williamsport Little League sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua in support of the team’s family visa applications. Thanks to the effort, they were able to get an appointment that is currently taking months. The 33-year–old agricultural engineer and former baseball player does not know why his visa was the only one approved.
“I got all excited when I knew my visa was approved, and at the same time I felt bad for the other kids who might feel a little alone,” he told Latino Rebels. “Just a few people showed up for us for the first game, but as more Nicaraguans living nearby knew about what happened, they drove here and we started receiving more support.”
Bravo says that “having more people cheering them up, singing songs for them, made the kids feel more confident and they played a better game.”
— Nicoya (@TrueN1ca) August 22, 2022
The Nicaraguan team ended up making it to the final six of the international round, after defeating other powerhouses from Panama, Puerto Rico, and Japan, before losing 2-7 on Wednesday to Pabao Little League from Willemstad, Curaçao, representing the Caribbean.
Bravo highlighted the constant support the team received from the families back home via WhatsApp and social media, sending messages and sharing the links to stream the games.
“If the other families would have been able to come, maybe that would have marked even better results,” Braov said. “As a 12-year-old, you need your parents. But these kids are warriors. They gave it all and made it really far.”
Such passion for the sport known in Latin America as “la pelota caliente” turned out to be contagious and made people from Nicaragua living in Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey drive all the way to Pennsylvania, even taking time off from their jobs, to support the kids. The games became a great opportunity for the community to come together.
Dr. Rosa Castillo Krewson, a Nicaraguan teacher at American University and a baseball fan, drove three hours from northern Virginia to see the kids’ hits and runs but also out of pride and support for the Nicaraguan community that, as she describes it, is rather small and some times is only in contact with close friends and relatives.
“I saw the reporter from ESPN, Sebastián Salazar, interviewing the only father that was able to come, and I said to my husband, ‘There is nobody in the stands. We have to go,'” Castillo said.
To her surprise, she says, at the stadium she met with other people from Nicaragua, and all agreed that after what happened with the visas, the kids needed support.
“We didn’t know each other. The pride for Nicaragua and the sentiment as parents made us show up,” Castillo said. “I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for the families not being able to come. Other countries didn’t have the same issues with their visas.”
Castillo herself has not been able to visit Nicaragua in the last 10 years, amid a Level 3 advisory against traveling there issued by the State Department “due to limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of laws.”
Carlos R. Pagan, Little League Latin America Region director, says restrictions on travel are occurring with various countries, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. He says some of the embassies are working at lower capacity and appointments sometimes take months to get.
The league passes along the letters of support for family members’ visa applications, but the final decision is up to each embassy to make.
“Regarding the visas, the Little League makes everything possible to communicate with the State Department so that the teams and their families can come, but each country has the power to grant the visas or not. I don’t know the specific reasons,” Pagan explained.
“Nicaragua played great baseball,” he added. “The fact that they were able to come after so long and have their five games broadcasted for the world is what matters now.”
While it would have been great to have all the families, Pagan says that what’s important now is that the kids’ performances boost Nicaraguan baseball.
“I know the team learned from this experience, and that will prepare them for the future,” he said.
According to Bravo, people in Nicaragua are referring to the kids on social media as “our champions.” He describes them as committed players who put their hearts in every game.
“I will continue to support my son and the rest of the team. They have a promising future into the older leagues,” Bravo said. “There is a lot of excitement. The expectations are now very high for what Nicaragua can give in tournaments like this one.”
Juan de Dios Sánchez Jurado is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media. A writer, lawyer, and journalist from Colombia, he is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @diosexmaquina