Whether it was a seven-minute commute, an hour flight or 18-hour drive, youth baseball teams from McAllen and Mexico met here Saturday morning to play ball.
Hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen in partnership with the city of McAllen and McAllen Chamber, a total of 36 teams — 16 teams from Mexico — are competing in a two-day McAllen International Youth Baseball tournament at the McAllen Youth Baseball Complex.
Lugging their equipment behind them, the young players smiled and laughed spiritually, excited to play as they walked next to their teammates. Despite how far they traveled, or what language they used in their team huddles, the tournament focused on one thing: camaraderie.
“It is all about friendship, sportsmanship and respect,” Jorge Leal, director of athletics, said.
Teams came from all around Mexico, including Monterrey, Reynosa and Colima. The farthest team came from Mexico City.
He noted that the event was inspired by the 1957 Little League champions from Monterrey, who were dubbed “Los Pequeños Gigantes,” or the Little Giants.
The team averaged 4 feet, 11 inches tall, and were outweighed by their opponents by at least 35 pounds. They also came from mostly impoverished families and practiced in poor conditions with makeshift equipment.
That team stayed in McAllen for the tournament and made history by sweeping the bracket, and winning the Little League World Series.
“We are a part of that history,” said Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. “They were the first team from another country that won the World Series here in the United States, and we get to say we were a part of that story. So, we are here to celebrate that.”
“The game of baseball has always been a beautiful game that has brought different countries together, just like it is today, bringing Mexico and McAllen together,” she added.
Before the first round of games began, teams gathered on one field for a commencement ceremony. Gonzalez-Alcantar welcomed all the teams and gave a brief explanation of the reason behind the event.
The U.S. national anthem was sung by a Boys & Girls Club volunteer, which was followed by the Mexican national anthem, sung proudly by a young team from Mexico. In their green uniforms, they gathered around the microphone and sang the song together through giggles, proudly.
“I have seen some of these kids from the age of 4 now playing in 14U, and seeing them play now with teams from Mexico makes me proud,” Leal said.
“We are very proud of this tournament and hope to do it as long as we can — as long as I am alive.”