Bichette Jr. leads Florida past Iowa

Updated: August 20, 2005, 12:15 AM ET
Associated Press

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- After 15 seasons in the majors, Mike Stanley finally made it to a world series. He can thank his son.

Stanley and another former major leaguer, Dante Bichette, are coaches on the Maitland, Fla., team at the Little League World Series.

Now, Stanley looks around and marvels at the sights: anxious kids punching gloves, groundskeepers tending pristine fields, green mountains towering beyond the outfield fence.

"Look how beautiful this place is, to have a mountainside as your backdrop," Stanley said as he walked back from batting practice Thursday with his 11-year-old son, Tanner.

"I'm past my time playing," he said. "It's time for these kids to start enjoying things."

Bichette's son, Dante Jr., came up big Friday night during a nationally televised game, scrambling home with the go-ahead run on an error following a wild pitch in the fifth inning before slamming a three-run homer in the sixth to give Maitland a 7-3 victory over Davenport (Iowa) Northwest.

Bichette's homer in the sixth elicited cheers of "Let's go Maitland!" from a contingent about 10 rows deep behind the Florida bench. Most were clad in powder blue shirts and hats, matching the color of Maitland's uniforms.

When he got back to the dugout, Bichette Jr. said his father told him, "That a way to hit it kid."

The Maitland team has been in town since Monday, and Stanley and Bichette have drawn much of the buzz so far.

"Look at them, I'm pretty sure they are going to produce," said Shon Muna, manager of the Pacific region champion team from Guam, as his players took swings at a batting cage next to the Maitland team.

Stanley hit 187 home runs during a career that ended in 2000. His longest postseason run was in 1999 with the Boston Red Sox team that lost the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees.

Bichette's only postseason appearance came in 1995, when his Colorado Rockies lost a divisional round series to the Atlanta Braves. Bichette hit 274 home runs in a 14-year career, finishing after the 2001 season. He was part of the Blake Street Bombers lineup that powered Colorado in the 1990s.

Today, Bichette says his focus is on his son, Dante Jr., and the rest of his Maitland teammates. Father and son came to the Little League World Series in 2003 as spectators, where Bichette says his son's dreams of coming back as a player took fruit.

"I did what any dad would do when a kid says he's got a dream. I went out there and helped him chase it," Bichette said.

His son is off to a good start. Besides his offensive exploits, Bichette Jr. struck out 11 batters and allowed four hits in the complete-game, six-inning win. All Little League series games are six innings.

Bichette Jr. allowed three hits in the first inning, capped by a three-run homer by Davenport's Ryan Shumaker, before settling down and allowing just one hit thereafter.

"They scouted us well," Davenport manager Jeff Mallonee said. "[Bichette Jr.] threw a nice breaking ball."

Like most teams at the series, Maitland is an all-star squad of players in the local league. Stanley managed one team and Bichette coached on another. Now they're both first-time coaches at the series.

"Every time you do something for your little boy, it's got to rank higher than personal achievement," Bichette said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press