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No rest for weary as these Ocean View stars and coaches play on

Little League World Series champions Hagen Danner, Nick Pratto and Anthony Martinez keep commitment to play at Cooperstown, N.Y., tournament, missing out on welcome celebration in Orange County.

August 29, 2011|By Mike Hiserman
  • Ocean View's Hagen Danner pitches in the first inning of a pool-play game against LaGrange, Ky., at the Little League World Series on Sunday.
Ocean View's Hagen Danner pitches in the first inning of a pool-play… (Matt Slocum / Associated…)

Not 20 hours had passed since Hagen Danner experienced the thrill of his young life, helping his Ocean View team of Huntington Beach win a Little League world championship by hitting a home run in a 2-1 victory over Japan.

He was as high as a Little League ballplayer could get, having starred as a hitter, pitcher and catcher on the fields of South Williamsport, Pa., performing superbly in six games before large crowds and national television audiences.

Already, Danner and his teammates were getting used to rock-star treatment, with fans scrambling for their autographs and photographs. Now a parade was being planned for them in Huntington Beach on Sept. 10, the Dodgers and Angels were planning ceremonies, and producers from "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" had already been in touch.

First, of course, there would be a raucous welcome in Orange County on Monday night when the team returned home.

But for Danner, two of his coaches and teammates Nick Pratto and Anthony Martinez, some of the trappings of newfound celebrity would have to wait.

They had to get to another baseball tournament.

By 9 a.m. Monday, Danner was on a field at Cooperstown, N.Y., preparing for the first game of what would be a tripleheader with his club team, the Southern California Rebels. (Full disclosure: I help as an assistant coach with that team in Southern California tournaments.)

While the rest of the Ocean View team celebrated its victory with free food and a replay of the game at a Williamsport hotel Sunday night, Danner and his parents, Scott and Lisa, were making a four-hour drive to upstate New York, arriving just before midnight.

The others, Nick Pratto and his father, Jeff, Ocean View's manager, and Anthony Martinez and his father, Jose, a coach, made the drive Monday morning, hoping to catch the last of the Rebels' Monday games.

A Little League championship is youth baseball's summit, but for Danner and the others headed for Cooperstown, it wasn't the end of the line. Not even close.

When their club team finishes up this week — there are three more games scheduled for Tuesday, and more Wednesday and Thursday — Danner and Pratto will have only a few days at home before they leave for Cary, N.C., where they will take part in tryouts for the United States' 14-under national team beginning Sept. 8.

So much for taking part in that parade.

"I'm sure he's tired," Scott Danner said of his son during a telephone interview Monday morning, noting that Hagen, while playing second base in the first game on the day, had let a ball roll under his glove and between his legs for an error. "He's probably looking for a little downtime."

Hagen confirmed it. "I kind of want to go home and sleep in my own bed," he said between games. "I'm tired of going. But this will be fun. It's a great time."

Nick Pratto and Anthony Martinez, who spoke by phone while being driven to Cooperstown on Monday morning, expressed similar sentiments. Both said they were a little tired and would miss arriving home with the rest of their Little League team, but …

"I'd rather be playing baseball than doing anything else," Martinez said.

Added Pratto: "I wouldn't miss a tournament for my life."

Their fathers were worn out too. Beyond coaching, for weeks they had been responsible 24-7 for 13 youngsters with, as Jeff Pratto said, "13 different ways of living." But now they were looking forward to watching some games without having to pore over scouting reports and videotape in preparation.

"It drained us," Jose Martinez said. "Toward the end, the kids were getting on each other's nerves — not on the field, but living together and always having to be together was different for them. Then yesterday was just amazing, but at the end of the day I just wanted to go home.

"But we made a commitment and we're going. I'm looking forward to just being a dad for a few days and hoping my kid and the rest of the guys do well."

Already, though, coaches Pratto and Martinez had learned that it'll probably be a while before they're just any dads watching any kids.

Renting a car at the airport Monday morning had taken close to an hour, Pratto said, because people recognized them and requested autographs and photos. The same thing happened during stops on their drive to Cooperstown.

"Just a little bit ago we stopped for directions in this little rural town in Pennsylvania and this guy came running down the street saying, 'You're Jeff Pratto! I know who you are! You coach that Little League team!' "

Miles up the road, the Danner family had similar experiences as word spread around the Cooperstown complex that a star from Williamsport was on the diamond. "People are coming to watch when they hear he's out here," Scott Danner said.

And what did he think of all the fuss over his 12-year-old?

"Obviously, it feels good, but I'm realistic too," Danner said. "I know my kid isn't God on the baseball field. But I do appreciate the kind remarks."

Among them, veteran sportscaster Brent Musburger had all but predicted a professional baseball career for young Hagen during ESPN's broadcast of the final game.

"I'm anxious to see how he's going to handle it," Danner said of the attention and praise. "I'm pretty confident he'll handle it well."

There was no doubt, though, that the Cooperstown tournament, which was in the works for a year and was anticipated as the highlight of the summer, was now something a little less for at least a few of the participants.

"It definitely doesn't have the same feel here," Hagen Danner said, "but in a way that's kind of good. I feel like I already went through as much as a kid can go through."

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