By Karen Billing
Hustle. Loyalty. Respect: That’s the team motto of the Del Mar Little League AAA Division Scrappers. The Scrappers are a team that knows how to win, they’ve got an impressive 7-2 record, but they seem to value their friendships and a sense of brotherhood over racking up W’s.
They even invented their own team hug — a hug followed by two jabs of the fist to the shoulders, adapted from a similar celebration done by the Boston Red Sox.
“It’s all about family and having fun with the kids,” said Manager Daniel O’Rourke. “It’s been a fun year.”
O’Rourke said the year has really been special because of Coach Jimmy Joyner, his stepson who played baseball and football at Whittier College and currently coaches football at Mater Dei Catholic High School.
“He is really teaching these kids some great baseball and life skills. He is the real deal and all the boys love him,” O’Rourke said. “One player, Ben Monks, if Jimmy asked him to run through a brick wall he would. He’s just so fired up for the team.”
The Scrappers might not have happened if not for an incident last year when O’Rourke and Joyner were watching a game together and Joyner just didn’t like the way the manager treated the kids. He didn’t think the coach was getting the kids to experience the real heart of little league—which is really all about having fun.
“I don’t remember the games or scores from little league,” Joyner said. “What I remember is the times I had with the other kids, the time spent in the dugout.”
O’Rourke issued a challenge to his 29-year-old stepson: Why don’t we run a team next year?”
“You could hear a pin drop,” Joyner said of the game he watched last year. “When I was playing it was real ‘rah rah’ and we cheered for everybody. The Scrappers have already gotten complaints for being too loud, which is just what I wanted. The cheering keeps the kids in the game.”
O’Rourke teamed up with coach Fadi Atiya to draft their own children and get all the players assembled for the “dream team,” which O’Rourke said is not an easy task in the little league draft.
There are two pairs of brothers on the dream team with Jude and Zane Atiya and Luke and Ryan “Ryano” O’Rourke, the youngest player on the team at age 9. The Scrappers roster is rounded out by Omar Dabbas, Grayson LeRose, Holden McDonald, Eric Misak, Ben Monks, Matthew Rosenfield, Mateo Seda and J.P. Sillick.
“These are some cool kids to be around,” said Joyner. “What I stress to these kids is to be a family, to have each other’s backs and look out for each other. They’re all best friends now.”
The coaching staff also includes John Sillick and assistant coach Michael LeRose.
“We’re a good team with good players and I think we could win the World Series,” said Ben, a Sage Canyon fifth grader. “I like the coaches a lot. They’re real nice and it’s fun being on their team. The players have all become my friends.”
Luke, a fifth-grader at Sycamore Ridge, echoed that it has been great to play with his friends and cheer them on but he has also really liked playing for his brother Jimmy.
“It’s really exciting to play for him in my last year before majors,” Luke said. “He’s helped me the most with my pitching, he taught me a full wind-up and helped my aiming and speed. He knows the game.”
Grayson, a fifth-grader at Sycamore Ridge, was convinced to come back to baseball from his other sport, soccer.
“For me the best part about baseball is its natural reality of hitting the ball and running the bases,” said Grayson, who plays pitcher and shortstop. “If you hit the ball over the fence it’s a great feeling that you’re doing something well. You always know you can improve, the coaches are always there to help you. We have very encouraging coaches.”
As pumped as the kids are to play the game, so is Coach Joyner.
“I love it, I don’t sleep right after we lose, I don’t sleep the night before a game,” said Joyner. “I love being out there with the kids and making sure they’re having fun.”