This morning at a ballpark in northern Pennsylvania, east Vancouver's Katie Reyes will revel in a rare field of dreams as she takes on the boys in the Little League World Series.
Katie is one of just 15 girls in history to advance to the global baseball showcase for players 11 to 13 years old. Both Katie, as a girl in a game dominated by young boys of summer, and her Canadian championship team are decided underdogs at the Williamsport, Pa., tournament.
Rachel Reyes, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 1986, says her daughter is no ordinary girl, and coaches say she isn't afraid to put the boys in their place.
"She's pretty confident in what she does," Ms. Reyes said. "At one time, I thought she would be left out. As a mother of a girl, you think that way, because girls are underdogs. But in her case, the boys and coaches, the way they treat her, she's not the girl to put on the sidelines.
"She's the girl that delivers."
Indeed, Katie and the Hastings Community Little League team went undefeated at the Canadian championships in Val-d'Or, Que.
They earned a berth to the 63rd Little League World Series this week. Canada begins play against Mexico at Howard J. Lamade Stadium today, and is in an international pool with teams from Germany and Chinese Taipei.
Only one Canadian team, a 1965 squad from Stoney Creek, Ont., has advanced out of the international bracket and into the tournament final against the U.S. champions.
"I want to keep going into the semis and if we're lucky, maybe the finals," Katie said yesterday. "I'm speechless, to tell you the truth. This has been amazing and it has been very entertaining."
Katie is a right-handed-hitting first basewoman and, at 5 feet 6 inches and 138 pounds., one of the sturdiest kids on the 12-player team. She is fast enough to bunt for a base hit and powerful enough that she belted a game-winning home run at the B.C. provincial championships in Coquitlam earlier this month.
She began playing baseball about six years ago, after watching her younger brother, Matthew, in Vancouver's Little Mountain league. When the family moved in 2007, Katie was encouraged by a friend to join the Hastings league, where she fit right in with a blossoming group of all-star players who had been winning since they were 7 and 8 years old in rookie ball.
"You could see her potential and the athleticism right away," Hastings coach Frank Cusati said. "No one has a bigger heart, and she's one of the toughest kids on the team."
Though baseball doesn't run in the family, resiliency does.
Rachel and Hercules Reyes were college sweethearts in Tarlac City, in the northern Philippines. After school, he became a marine engineer and she voyaged to Canada, where she spent her first two years as a nanny before launching a career working with disabled children.
They reunited after 16 years when his ship pulled into Vancouver's port and were married six months later, in April, 1993. They spent two more years apart as his immigration papers were processed, then began their family.
Hercules Reyes is now an industrial mechanic, while his wife works with the Vancouver School Board. They live near the Hastings Park diamond where the team plays, roughly four kilometres from the epicentre of Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.
The diamond is the only field in the district, and services 20 teams that play only eight home games a season. They play another 12 road games against neighbouring districts thanks to an interlocking schedule, and must practice on gravel diamonds at area schools.
"We take care of our main diamond because that's all we got," league president Dave Jenkins said. "[And]without the interlock, there wouldn't be much playing time."
This week, the league has organized online donations to cover more than $60,000 in unexpected expenses for a travelling party of about 60 family members and friends. Ultimately, it will bid for the 2016 Canadian championships in hopes of landing government funding for a new $200,000 park.
Though the league shares a name with Hastings Street, a handle loaded with grim images, parents scoff at the perception that their children are dodging syringes in the outfield, and say team families are mostly middle class.
"We'll manage," Ms. Reyes said. "When you're away from work, every dollar counts, but what can you do? We have to see her play."
Ms. Reyes said that Katie seemed to play baseball "naturally," and had no trouble competing against boys and moving up the ranks.