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Encinitas Little League gets big sendoff before tournament

The Swinging Friar, the Padres mascot, bumps fists with Nick Sando during a sendoff. Encinitas Little League is one of only six teams in the Western Region Tournament competing for a spot in the Little League World Series.
( / Jared Whitlock)

When Encinitas Little League (ELL) players and coaches boarded a bus the afternoon of July 30, an extra person hopped on for a few minutes before they left: Trevor Hoffman.

“San Diego is behind you guys,” said the former Padre and seven-time All Star during a pep talk.

Hoffman was among roughly 100 people at Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA who gave ELL’s All-Star Team a proper sendoff. Indeed, the crowd repeatedly chanted “ELL!” as the bus revved.

Starting Aug. 2, they’re playing in the West Region Tournament in San Bernardino, one step away from the Little League World Series.

The team, made up of 12- and 13-year-olds, has had quite a run so far.

Most recently on July 27, ELL beat Long Beach to capture the Southern California championship, marking the first time an ELL team has won the title. And they did so with their backs against the wall.

After getting blown out in its first game in the best-of-three tournament, the team rallied and won the next two.

“It shows big-time character,” said Brian Mazone, the team’s pitching coach, who has been coaching the boys for three years.

“To see their progression over the last three years, both on and off the field, has been exciting for me,” he added.

After games, win or lose, ELL players gather in front of the other team’s fans and applaud them.

“The other teams and parents really respect us for that,” Mazone said. “We appreciate them coming out.”

He also noted ELL helps out Miracle League of San Diego, an organization dedicated to supporting children with mental or physical challenges who want to play organized sports.

JP Kraus, a 12-year-old centerfielder, said the 14 players on the team have become better friends as the season has gone on.

“We’re all rooting for each other and having fun,” Kraus said.

Kraus watched the Little League World Series a few years ago and wondered what it would be like to play in it. It’s “really cool” the team has a shot to get there, he said.

Randy Jones, the Padre’s first Cy Young winner, also came out.

“Some will go on to play and others won’t, but they’ll always have this memory,” Jones said.

Even players from Chula Vista’s Eastlake Little League, the defending U.S. champion, met up with ELL earlier this week to offer words of encouragement.

And Mayor Kristin Gaspar noted she ran errands earlier in the day throughout the city and “the team was the talk of the town.”

ELL is one of only six teams in the West Region competing for a spot in the Little League World Series. The team’s first game is against Honolulu at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 2.

The entire tournament will be televised on ESPN 3.


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