On an August afternoon more than 35 years ago, a group of 11-and 12-year-olds from Northern Quebec came tantalizingly close to pulling off a baseball miracle.
“We were five outs away from playing Kirkland Washington in the final, then Taiwan’s offence came alive,” remembers Marc Désilets, who was a member of the 1982 team from Rouyn-Noranda that represented Canada at the the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“They scored, I think, seven runs in an inning. I remember the whole crowd was really behind us. Taiwan had won nine of the last 10 World Series. I will never forget having 28,000 people behind us, it is the memory of a lifetime.”
“At one point during that game, we realized we could actually win,” recalls head coach Gilles Mireault.
Coming into the game, Taiwan had been a virtual lock, winners of five straight titles and 30 straight games.
Taiwan’s 10-7 win over Canada made it 31 in row. Taiwan’s run would end with a loss to a team from Washington in the finals a few days later.
‘A great memory’
“When you are young you forget a lot of things. But I do remember that game against Taiwan well,” recalls Pierre Turgeon, who went on to a long NHL career. “If we would have won…we were so close but looking back it’s a great memory, something I have never forgotten.”
Thirty-five years later, members of Rouyn-Noranda are back in Williamsport, the scene of their near miss.
“There are always goosebumps when you come here. Looking around, we just went up on the hill to take pictures from the exact same spot we did in 1982,” Turgeon said.
Along with Stéphane Matteau, Turgeon was one of two future NHL stars to play on the team.
Ten of the fourteen players from the roster made the trip here and many haven’t seen each other in decades.
“To be back here again today and to see guys. I haven’t seen some of these guys in 35 years. It’s crazy,” Turgeon gushes. “The best part is hearing all of the stories of things you have forgotten. There [are] things they talk about and it brings you back. It’s great to take your mind back 35 years later.”
Proud to represent Canada
Coming into the tournament, the team was well prepared but unsure of what to expect on the international stage.
“We practiced so much that summer, two times a day [the players around him laugh] four or five days a week. We were ready, we were really proud to represent Canada.
“I remember one line from our coach, we were doing a simulation game and he said, ‘let’s say we are playing against Japan today,'” recalls Désilets. “And by the end of the summer we were playing Taiwan, another team form the Far East. That line is something that is still deep in my mind.”
For Desilets and many on the team, it’s their first time back in Williamsport since they played here.
They spent the day soaking in one of the great settings in American sport.
“You don’t realize how big it is when you are young. Now with adult eyes it’s very different.”
An unforgettable game
It’s a sentiment shared by many here for the reunion. Even Turgeon, who starred in the NHL and played in front of thousands of fans, Williamsport holds a special place
“It’s one of the highlights of my life to be honest, playing in front of those crowds, getting on the field looking around. I mean, when are you going to get that when you are 11-years-old?”
The team will be honoured during a special on-field ceremony during this year’s World Series.
The stars of yesterday also had some advice for the team from White Rock, B.C., this year’s representative from Canada.
“I told them to focus on every pitch, every play. As we know in sports, it’s the little things,” Turgeon says. “One hit that can make the difference in winning.”
Désilets likes the look of this year’s team.
“Maybe it’s Canada’s year. Yes, I think it’s Canada’s year.”