WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Spend a couple of days around Team Canada at the Little League World Series and one thing becomes very evident — the Whalley Little Leaguers have become one big family.
From players to coaches to parents, the group has formed a bond they say will last a lifetime in pursuit of the prestigious tournament title.
The team from B.C., has been living on the road for about a month now — first qualifying to become the provincial representatives at nationals, winning a national title in Quebec and ending up in Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
"This is a family. My son is on the team but I treat all these boys like they're all my sons," Mike Marino, the team's head coach, said.
"We faced a lot of adversity this year and we just keep sticking together and it's made us stronger."
The Canadians will have to lean hard on that resilience now after losing their opening game of the championship Friday night against Panama, falling behind early because of nerves, according to Marino.
But they're putting the loss behind them and focusing on a must-win contest against Spain on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
"We're relaxed and confident and I think we're going to play our best baseball now," Marino said.
Gord Pladson, who spent four seasons in the major leagues pitching for the Houston Astros, was born and raised in New Westminster, B.C.
His youngest son played in the Little League World Series in 1997 for Canada. Years later, he's back at the historic baseball site watching grandson, Kai Sheck, play for Canada.
"I told him to enjoy it and don't forget where you are. Relax and enjoy the moment," Pladson said. "It's an amazing spectacle and if you can take this stuff with you it'll last a lifetime."
Pladson says the professional baseball setting reminds him of his playing days. He attributes his love of the game to his father, who also loved baseball and introduced him to the sport.
"This is quite the show and unbelievable for these little guys," he said.
Pladson's daughter, Danna Sheck, has watched a lot of baseball over the years. Nowadays, she sits in the stands with her dad watching her son play at the Little League World Series.
"This is the baseball dream, right? It doesn't get any better than this," she said. "Our team motto is 'family first. No man left behind. Every one is together.' The coaches are like second fathers to our kids."
The story of Dio Gama has been well-documented in the lead up to the Little League World Series. It looked like the team's top player wasn't going to be able to join them in the United States because of immigration issues.
Gama was born in Las Vegas and has American citizenship. His parents are Mexican and moved to Canada more than a decade ago. Dio joined them three years ago. Their latest refugee application is still pending which led the Gama's family lawyer to advise Dio not to travel to the U.S., fearing he may not be allowed back in Canada.
But on Wednesday Canada's Immigration Minister stepped in and granted Dio a temporary visitor permit to play.
When the team received the news, Marino says there was an outpouring of emotion.
"Pure joy. It was pure joy," he said. "It put our family back together again.
For Dio, it's allowing him to fulfill a baseball dream with a group of players he says are like brothers.
"I feel really blessed for what Canada has done to me," the 13-year-old said. " It gives you a lot of love … I can't tell you how thankful I am for me to be here and make my dream come true."