On to the next sandlot


In this 2016 file photo, Heath Camacho pitches for the Braves during one of their Major division games in the Saipan Little League Baseball at the Miguel “Tan Ge” Basa Pangelinan Ballfield. (Saipan Tribune)

Little League products Tonchu Norita and Heath Camacho are aiming to play baseball off-island after unfortunately missing their last two seasons in the grassroots program.

Norita and Camacho are among the many players who will be ineligible (age cut-off is 16 years old) for the Senior League division of Saipan Little League Baseball’s season next year. The two Braves players would have had their farewell season this year if not for the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the competition. The Senior League division did not also have games last year, as SLLB opted to hold only the Minor and Major matches, as the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios was still unplayable back then after it sustained significant damage from Super Typhoon Yutu.

“It’s so frustrating that we would not be able to play in the Little League next year, especially since we we’re not able to have the Senior League for two seasons,” said Camacho, who will turn 17 years old next year.

CNMI Little League All-Star Team members and officials pose with their counterparts in the Philippines after their game in the 2015 Little League Asia-Pacific and Middle East Tournament in Guilin, China. (Contributed Photo)

Coaches and even player have hoped that Little League International would issue a waiver to allow aging Senior League players to compete next season since this year’s competition was shelved due to the pandemic. However, Little League International ruled stuck with the age requirement, leaving Camacho and company in dismay since they missed a lot of opportunities for the past two years.

“It was so disappointing not to finish our last year with the Little League program. I’ve been playing in the Little League since I was 9 years old so it’s really hard not to play here in the past two years,” Norita said.

“I am looking at playing off-island, probably in Washington. I would love to continue playing baseball,” the two-time CNMI All-Star said.

Camacho is also eyeing to suit up for either a high school or college team when he moves off-island.

In this 2015 file photo, the CNMI’s Tonchu Norita waits for the pitch during their game against China in the 2015 Little League Asia-Pacific and Middle East Tournament in Guilin, China. (Contributed Photo)

“For now, I just want to focus on school and try my best to go to the states so I could play baseball there,” the Braves pitcher said.

Though their Little League stint was cut short, both Camacho and Norita were thankful to be part of the program and for the lessons and memories they had while playing for various teams.

“My best memory in the Little League would be our championship game in my last year in the Major because I pitched in that finals and we won,” Camacho said.

The Tanapag resident was talking of their 7-6 victory over the Talaabwogh Falcons in the “Battle of the North” for the Major division crown in 2017. The Braves’ title win foiled the Falcons’ bid for a sweep that season, as the latter earlier took the Junior and Senior championships. Camacho then sweetened the upset after taking the MVP honors in the division.

Braves players gather for a photo after playing in the finals of the Major division of the 2015 Saipan Little League Baseball at the Miguel “Tan Ge” Basa Pangelinan Ballfield. (Contributed Photo)

Norita, on the other hand, best remembered his selection to the CNMI All-Star Team—in 2015 for the Major division and in 2018 for the Junior League.

“We went to China in 2015 and in the Philippines in 2018. It’s nice to travel and play against teams from other countries,” said Norita.

The two players thanked their coaches/managers, teammates, and others involved in the program, which taught them a lot of valuable lessons on and off the field.

“Playing in the Little League helped me stay away from trouble,” Camacho said.

“Little League taught me how to be a team player and be confident about my skills. I will definitely miss my teammates and coaches and wish them good luck next season. Enjoy Little League baseball while you can still play,” Norita said.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.
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