Skip to main content

Canada is looking to make history at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania this week by hoisting the tournament trophy for the first time.

And Mike Marino, the head coach of Canada’s representative this year in Williamsport – the Whalley Major Allstars from Surrey, B.C. – believes he has the perfect team to do it.

“To be honest, we’re pretty confident,” Marino said on Wednesday in a phone interview.

“I think we’re ready to shock some people here, I really do.”

Canada, one of 16 teams battling for the prestigious Little League World Series title, opens play on Friday against Latin American representative Panama.

Whalley advanced to the annual international tournament by winning the Canadian championship last weekend in Mirabel, Que., going undefeated on a title run that was capped with an 11-0 mercy rule win over Nova Scotia on Saturday.

The team arrived at the Little League World Series Complex in Williamsport – described by Marino as “like Disneyland on steroids for baseball people” – on Sunday night after an eight-hour bus trip from Montreal. They’ve spent a whirlwind week practising at the complex, doing interviews with ESPN and going through scouting drills with the Baseball Factory.

“It’s funny, because we don’t really think they know the extent of how big this is,” Marino said of the team’s attitude heading into the tournament. “They’re excited and it’s awesome and they’ve got smiles on their faces all the time, but I really don’t think they’ve realized yet what they’ve accomplished and where they are.”

Canada has appeared in every Little League World Series since 1952 (the tournament began in 1947), when a team from Montreal made the quarter-finals. A Stoney Creek, Ont., squad was runner-up in 1965 and two Canadian teams finished third – one from Trail, B.C., in 1990 and one from Langley, B.C., in 1998 – but those results predated the two-bracket format introduced in 2001 that split U.S. teams from international entries. The winners of both sides meet in the championship final.

Last year’s Canadian representative from White Rock, B.C., lost in the international semi-final. A team from Whalley also made the international semi in 2005.

Marino said he doesn’t know much about Panama’s team, aside from a few stats and any preliminary info he’s gained from sizing up the Panamanians in the hallways and dining hall at the tournament grounds. But he expects the level of competition in Williamsport to be stiffer than what Whalley is used to.

“I think more of these teams are like us. They don’t just have one good pitcher, they have three or four. They don’t have one or two guys who can hit the ball, the whole team can hit. Their quote-unquote bottom-end players would be starters on any other team,” Marino said. “When we’re in provincials or nationals, seven or eight guys [on opposing teams] you might be able to just go right after them with fastballs and expect to get outs. I don’t think you can expect that here.”

Marino called right-handed pitcher/outfielder Ian Huang, who throws up to 70-plus miles an hour, one of Canada’s top players heading into the tournament. The Baseball Factory, which spends time scouting teams in Williamsport before the tournament, noted Huang’s “great mechanics” and “advanced delivery” in a report on their website.

But Marino said it’s his team’s depth that’s been most impressive.

“That’s how we’ve been so successful and that’s what got us here,” Marino said. “We’re so talented 1 through 12, all of them.”

Whalley’s national championship and trip to Williamsport is special for Marino on more than just the coaching level.

He played for Whalley as a kid and his son Joey is the team’s shortstop. Four other fathers of Whalley players also played for the organization in their youths.

Marino’s childhood teams never made it to Williamsport, failing to advance out of their own district finals in consecutive seasons, but he said that lack of success makes him appreciate the current team’s accomplishment even more.

“We had dads in tears when we won [the Canadian championship], just crying like babies because they know how hard it is to get here,” Marino said. “We tried to get here as kids. We know how hard it is to get of your district, and then out of provincials and then to win the national championship.

“We’ve seen it all and played it all. We know how big this is.”

Interact with The Globe