Go East, young men | World Series berth a gift of community for Eastlake squad

The Eastlake Little League team opens Little League World Series play Thursday.

Blake Hawksworth remembers when the game was pure.

Before he ever signed his first professional contract, or stepped on the mound with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, Hawksworth fostered a passion for the game at a time when the ballpark was never more than a bike ride away from his childhood home in Sammamish.

“I lived a football field away from the park,” he said. “It was an exciting time for me and my friends. It is baseball at its purest form.”

Now, as another generation of Sammamish Little Leaguers makes history as Eastlake’s first regional champions and World Series participants, Hawksworth can’t help but look on and smile.

The current group, composed of the top 13 players from the league’s Major level teams, has already left its own mark.

After storming through the District 9 and state tournament, Eastlake found itself in rarified air at the Northwest Regional tournament.

With a pair of comebacks, the second with its tournament life on the line in the semi-finals against Oregon, and a decisive win in the championship game over Montana, Eastlake secured the first regional championship for any baseball or softball team in the program and punched its ticket to Little League’s biggest stage at the World Series.

Eastlake president Dan Bickford, who has been part of the league for the past 12 years, said the excitement in the community reached all the way down the coast when the team was at regionals, as dozens of people called, texted and emailed him photos and updates on the watch party at the EX3 Teen Center.

“It’s awesome, there is no other answer than that,” he said when asked about the accomplishment of reaching Williamsport.

Despite only receiving its charter from Little League in 2000, three players who have climbed the baseball ladder to its highest rungs have roots in the community and what is now Eastlake Little League (Sammamish players and teams were officially part of Redmond North Little League until receiving separate distinction in 2000).

Along with Hawksworth, who spent parts of three years with the Cardinals and Dodgers, most recently in 2011, fellow Eastlake grads Chad Orvella (1999) and Andy Sisco (2001) also reached the Majors, Orvella with the Tampa Bay Rays and Sisco with the Chicago White Sox.

But even after a career that took him to the cathedrals of the game and allowed him live out his childhood dream, Hawksworth said there is no substitute for the experience this group of Eastlake players is gaining.

“I know how excited they must be and I know how excited the city is,” he said. “They can pitch and they can hit and regardless of if you’re 12 or 30, the game is still the same in that regard.”

Eastlake opened its Little League World Series against the Southwest champions from Universal Little League in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Thursday after the Reporter’s deadline. The tournament concludes August 25 with the third-place and championship games.

The 2013 Eastlake 12-year-old All-Stars: Rob Chandler, manager; Matt Fitzgibbons, coach; Jamie Matsuoka, coach; Will Armbruester; Cameron Bowers; Jack Carper; Dalton Chandler; Jacob Dahlstrom; Bryce DeLay; Nathan Fitzgibbons; Jack Matheson; Dylan Matsuoka; Austin Oh; Zack Olson; Jack Rud; Jack Titus

The community, league and team have set up a fundraising webpage for the team’s travel expenses.