WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — There was disappointment for Team Canada in their opening game at the Little League World Series, but there was also a measure of perspective.
Canada lost to Panama 8-3 under the lights at historic Veteran Stadium with 4,776 spectators watching the game.
But during the loss, baseball dreams were realized for a group of kids from Whalley, B.C., specifically for one player wearing the red and white who never thought he'd get the chance to play at the prestigious baseball tournament.
Dio Gama arrived to a hero's welcome from his teammates when he ran out onto the field for warmups — just hours before the start of Canada's first game against Panama.
Batting practice. Dio Gama soaking up the moment with his teammates here. Canada preparing to take on Panama at Little League World Series. <a href="https://t.co/d2PlbZOa4a">pic.twitter.com/d2PlbZOa4a</a>
Gama travelled through the night Thursday from Vancouver and then had a chaperone drive him from Toronto to Williamsport on Friday morning — the long haul didn't slow down the spry 13-year-old, who was soaking up every second being on the big baseball stage.
For much of the week leading up to the prestigious baseball tournament it looked as though Gama wouldn't be able to join his team — complicated immigration issues had the Gama family lawyer advising the 13-year-old not to leave the country with their refugee application currently under review.
Gama is an American citizen, born in Las Vegas. His parents are Mexican and moved to Canada more than a decade ago.
Dio Gama showing no signs of fatigue during batting practice after traveling through the night from Vancouver to get to Little League World Series. <a href="https://twitter.com/cbcsports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cbcsports</a> <a href="https://t.co/B7RgcwcS0u">pic.twitter.com/B7RgcwcS0u</a>
But Canada's Immigration Minister granted Gama a temporary visitor permit on Wednesday, allowing him to join the team in the United States.
The sluggers from Whalley seemed bolstered by the addition of Gama, who is the team leader. They were hoping to carry that momentum into their game against Panama. However, the Latin American representatives started with three runs in the first inning and added three more in the second inning. Panama led 6-1 after two innings, forcing starting pitcher Ian Huang from the mound.
In Gama's first at bat of the game, with the crowd chanting "Dio! Dio! Dio!", he was able to score Canada's first run with a base hit.
'Hold your heads up'
Canada is putting their opening loss behind them and focusing on their next opponent.
They play Spain Saturday night at 6 p.m. ET. If the team wins, they continue on in the tournament. Should they lose, their Little League World Series championship dream is over.
Coach Marino says he likes how the team responded after falling behind early against Panama and now have to refocus for Saturday night's game.
"I told the boys to hold their heads high," Marino said. "We're a resilient group. We've bounced back from things all season long and I expect us to do it again."
Marino says he could sense the players were nervous going into their first game at the Little League World Series. He says the hour long rain delay also threw the team off of their normal pregame routine. But the coach isn't making excuses and says they'll leave it all on the field against Spain on Saturday night.
"The nerves are out of the way now and I think we'll be relaxed," Marino said. "Every time something hits them, these boys bounce back. They'll bounce back."