Surrey-area MPs Randeep Sarai (left) and Ken Hardie (right) with Whalley Little League’s Major Allstars during a celebration event at Sarai’s office on Thursday. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey MPs throw a pizza party for Whalley Little League team

Video games and video greeting from PM Trudeau at Thursday event

* This story has been updated

The national-champion baseball players of Whalley Little League were treated to a pizza party, arcade games and a video greeting from Canada’s prime minister on Thursday afternoon.

Local MPs Randeep Sarai (Surrey-Centre) and Ken Hardie (Fleetwood-Port Kells) co-hosted a celebration event for the team at Sarai’s constituency office on King George Boulevard.

The gathering was organized to celebrate the squad’s recent trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.

The team won twice at the fabled tournament during a summer to remember on — and off — the ball diamond.

• READ MORE: PHOTOS: Whalley’s Little League World Series run is over after loss to Puerto Rico

On Thursday, an Arcade Party Truck was parked outside the office to entertain the kids after they ate pizza and watched a short congratulatory video from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That evening, the team was saluted during a Vancouver Canadians game at Nat Bailey Stadium.

At Sarai’s office, the players were given gift bags, pins and certificates for their winning season, which included a stop at a Toronto Blue Jays game after their World Series run.

“You made Surreyites proud and all British Columbians proud, and most of all you made Canada really proud,” Sarai told players and coaches. “There was an excitement in our air, kind of an Olympic feel during the whole time as you guys elevated to the finals and you won the Canadian Little League championship, and that was the highlight. And then all the way to (Williamsport) was even better. Ken and I were definitely intimately watching you guys all the way, and although you lost close to the end, we were excited and felt you won the whole way through, so we’re super proud of you.”

After the team won the Canadian title, Hardie helped one player, Dio Gama, and his family with an immigration issue that initially prevented him from joining his teammates at the Little League World Series. Within days, federal authorities arranged a temporary permit to allow Dio to travel to the U.S. in time for the team’s first game in Williamsport.

“It all happened in just a matter of days,” Hardie recalled. “Dio and his dad came to visit us in our office on the Monday (after the Canadian championship final), that afternoon, and we immediately got on the phone to Ottawa, because there’s a special unit set up just to deal with inquiries from MPs’ offices.”

It wasn’t a matter of asking for a favour or an exception, Hardie said.

“What they did is found a way, with the rules that are there, to get this done,” he explained. “But the really neat part is the effort they made to get it done on time. And every time we turned around there was another little wrinkle or complication.

“We knew he was a power on the team,” Hardie added, “and the team wasn’t quite complete without him in the lineup, so to send not quite the whole team to the big show just didn’t seem right. I mean, the boy deserved to play, and that’s what happened.”

• READ MORE: Ottawa intervenes to get 13-year-old ball player to Little League World Series, from Aug. 15.

A couple days after being eliminated from the World Series, the Whalley squad played an exhibition game against Team Australia. In dramatic fashion, Dio won the game with a walk-off homer.

“I was 4-4, bottom of the sixth with a guy on base, and Dio stepped up, and he hit it so far it landed on the other side of the road,” coach Mike Marino recalled. “It was a big home run, and that was how we ended the tournament there.”

Added fellow coach Lucky Pawa: “You could just see the relief of stress on his face, just fully relieved. The whole thing was very tough on him. He and the family knew the situation, that they were waiting for the passport to come, but didn’t tell anybody on the team (until after the Canadian championship win in Quebec) because they didn’t want to disturb anyone. That’s amazing.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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