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Petaluma rallies behind Little Leaguers

By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Petaluma Little Leaguers are set to play on the biggest stage in youth baseball Thursday at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

Now, they’re also going to be on the big screen. Really big — as in 50 feet wide and three stories high.

Boulevard Cinemas, the downtown Petaluma movie theater, will be showing the noon game Thursday on at least one of the auditorium screens — more if the owners can make the technology work.

The event is one of several fundraising efforts that have sprung up since the Petaluma team qualified for the regional tournament held last week in San Bernardino. League officials are asking for help to defray the estimated $60,000 it will cost families to attend their boys’ games.

Theater owner Dave Corkhill said he was happy to pitch in, as much of Petaluma, including Oakland A’s player and Petaluma native Jonny Gomes, rallies around the team in its quest for Little League stardom in South Williamsport, Pa.

“They all come to our movie theater regularly, so we want to support them just as much as they support us,” Corkhill said.

Boulevard Cinemas is donating the use of the theaters, and all proceeds from the $15 tickets will go toward family costs.

The team’s expenses are paid by Little League, but the families are on their own for travel, food and lodging. Those expenses can be steep: Costly last-minute airfares, hotel stays, rental cars and food for as long as two weeks. There also are expenses at home and, for some, lost income.

Claire Gago, whose son Quinton plays on the team, said she and her husband, Sonny, were trying to figure out work schedules, who will be able to fly to Pennsylvania and what to do about the home and other family when they’re gone.

Other families also are trying to juggle commitments for their other children, for whom school starts soon.

League president Anthony Lackey has become the unofficial “donation coordinator,” fielding calls, texts and emails from people wanting to help.

The league started a PayPal donation account that can be accessed from the team’s Web page or Facebook page.

Oakland A’s player Gomes, who played Petaluma Little League in his youth, reached out to the coaches while they were in San Bernardino and offered to outfit the entire team with new bats and cleats from Nike, one of his sponsors.

But Gomes said Little League requires the players to use the Easton brand gear it provides, so he won’t be able to give the Nike equipment.

The new West champs received their World Series uniforms Monday — green and gold like Gomes’ Athletics — and they were each given new bats, batting gloves, helmets and sweat bands, coach Trevor Tomei said.

Gomes said he still wants to help the team.

“I’m going to get some new equipment and stuff just as a little gift for what they’ve be able to do,” he said.

He told team manager Eric Smith he is “going to raise a bunch of money.”

“I told them all to just charge it or borrow it because, 100 percent, we’ll get it back to you,” Gomes said. “Don’t let money be the obstacle for these parents not being able to go Pennsylvania to watch them.”

The local girls Earthquakes softball team held a bake sale and lemonade stand at Pinky’s Pizza parlor Saturday and raised $1,700. Pinky’s, Beyond the Glory and other restaurants are holding “dine and donate” events, where 15 percent of the day’s profits go to the team.

Next to Pinky’s, Zephyr shirts is selling Petaluma National shirts, and now new ones with their updated West champion logos, for $15.

Other folks have donated cash, Lackey said.

“It’s coming from so many different channels, some unsolicited. It’s just humbling,” he said. “It really makes you feel good about the nature of people. There are people out there who are wanting to do something without recognition and without any direct connection. It underscores what makes Petaluma a great community to live in.”

Corkhill said his technicians are trying to wire at least one more theater to view the broadcast, hoping to seat as many as 1,000 viewers. Tickets will be available on Fandango.com or at the theater box office.

Gomes said he is compiling some signed memorabilia from the A’s, and maybe some ticket packages, a batting or pitching lesson and maybe even some San Francisco Giants memorabilia to auction off and raise money.

If the team wins Thursday, it will play at 11 a.m. Sunday. If it loses, it plays at noon Saturday. The tournament concludes with the championship game at noon Aug.26.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES

From Thursday through Aug. 26 in South Williamsport, Pa.

Petaluma’s first game will be at noon Thursday PDT against New England, and will be broadcast on ESPN.