This All-Star summer had plenty of sizzle for ELL

The parting of the Red Sea came and went and did this summer really happen?

“It’s crazy what they accomplished,” Chaz Gagne said.

Gagne managed the Encinitas Little League All Stars, those boys playing lights out while school was out.

ELL, and its boisterous band of boosters dubbed the “Red Sea,” fell short in reaching the Little League World Series.

But ELL exceeded expectations so many times it’s had to categorize them all.

Going 15-5 and winning the ultra-competitive Southern California section is the stuff of dreams. Advancing to the West Region semifinals is another pinch-me moment.

ELL’s push to Pennsylvania stopped in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains, but it was a downer not devastating.

Saturday, a.k.a. the day after ELL’s last game, arrived with sun and smiles.

“We were kind of disappointed at first,” Austin Machado said. “Then we just kind of bounced back and forgot about it.”

Ah, youth. While coaches and parents hit game reset and the “what if” card, kids — why is this so surprising? — act like kids.

That’s why Machado was splashing around the Seaside Beach waves his first day minus catcher’s gear.

Why his teammates, Pete Gagne and Kai Haseyama, were playing tennis, swimming and bouncing on a trampoline with the baseball mitts stored.

But what’s also been stashed are some classic memories.

Oh to be the players’ ages, able to lean on those All-Star stories for life.

Some recollections have nothing to do with scoreboards or pitch counts.

“Getting to stay in the dorms in San Bernardino,” Machado said about what he’ll remember most. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was pretty fun being with all my teammates.”

Coach Gagne’s take about sharing a dorm with 14 players on the verge of being teenagers? First he had to exhale.

“It was such a whirlwind,” Gagne said. “A lot of these kids had never been away from their parents before, so for 10 days I was the surrogate parent. So it was a lot more than baseball, frankly.”

And honestly, is there a better way for the ELL bunch to be tagged by the San Bernardino officials: “The Polite Team.”

“When we went to the cafeteria we bused and wiped down our tables,” Gagne said, sounding like Mother Hen. “Then they would thank the kitchen staff and the cleaning staff. And they did that everywhere they went. That was the face they showed out there and that was important.”

Did those young mugs also shed a tear or two after being eliminated by Nevada, 5-1?

Did it matter to the 300 people appearing at Oggi’s in Encinitas to welcome them home on Sunday?

“I was pretty surprised,” Machado said. “I thought there was going to be like 10 people there.”

Gagne knew, to a degree, of ELL’s popularity. He saw the supporting crowds grow at each tournament, which had the Red Sea standing 10-deep when ELL faced Long Beach for the SoCal title.

Then again after being sequestered, he didn’t know the ELL bandwagon was riding on four taxed tires.

“You are so isolated in San Bernardino you don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes,” Gagne said. “You kind of lose sight of that.”

What didn’t escape ELL’s horizon was enjoying the moment instead of what’s over the hill. This summer wasn’t as much about the destination as it was about embracing the journey.

If en route the players started humming, “Don’t stop believing,” so be it.

“We beat some incredible teams,” Gagne said.

While forging some undeniable friendships.

While rallying a region around a squad which played hard and smiled easily.

It was a summer ride few imagined. While it’s over, the truth is it will never vanish.

“It really even hasn’t sunk in yet,” Gagne said. “I’m just really proud of what the boys accomplished on and off the field.”

That feeling stretches from the Red Sea as well.

Contact staff writer Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports

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