Naperville is a baseball-crazy town. From the high school season in the spring to the Little League games that fill up the summer, it’s rare there’s is a day without a game.
That piqued the interest of the Dubai Falcons, who are playing in the Naperville Firecracker Classic July 1-4.
Making an 8,000 mile trip across the globe may seem like a stretch for a youth baseball team from the United Arab Emirates, but the prospect of tough competition made the trek to sweet to pass up.
“In Dubai there’s a lot less competition than there is here,” said shortstop Jacob Taormina, who was born in the San Francisco bay area before his parents moved to Dubai. “We weren’t expecting to come here and just win. We knew it was going to be challenging.”
The Falcons didn’t start off their trip how they would have liked, going 0-3 in the West Chicago Keppler Classic, but after adjusting to a couple of rule changes the squad went from the slaughter rule in game one to losing by one in extra innings in game three.
“There’s very good pitching here,” said Coach Bill Hickey. “Therefore the placement of the balls to the batters is much better. So from a batting perspective for our players it’s much more challenging, which is exactly why we’re here.”
After playing two tournaments over two weeks in Naperville, the players and their families will make their way to Kutnow, Poland for the Little League Middle East and Africa Regional Championship. They hope to improve from last year’s rough regional performance, where they went 1-4.
“One of the clear learnings last year was that clearly we needed more tournament experience,” said Hickey. “The players needed it, not only from a competitive perspective but just the whole aura, the environment of walking in and dealing with all that.”
But this is more than just a business trip. The Falcons have already visited Wrigley Field and have plenty of other actives planned outside of baseball. The players know that no matter what they’re doing while they’re here, they’re representing the D on their hats.
“Our coaches keep telling us how lucky we are,” said Taormina.
“And we know we’re really lucky. Our coaches keep telling us how we have to be ambassadors for Dubai and set good examples of what Dubai is really like.”
If the Falcons’ weekend is successful like the players and coaches hope, Firecracker participants’ impressions of Dubai will center around one main idea: winning.
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