UPDATE (Aug. 15, 4:01 p.m.):
More to come.
SURREY — On Wednesday morning, Dio Gama was out playing baseball — just not in the place he most wants to be right now.
Dressed in full baseball gear, including a shirt proclaiming Whalley’s recent Canadian Little League Championship, he caught fly balls hit by his father, Noe, and crushed pitches thrown by one of his younger brothers at Lionel Courchene Park, near the Gama family’s home, in the Johnston Heights area of Surrey.
No question, Dio would rather be in Williamsport enjoying the Little League World Series experience with his 12 teammates.
At the moment, however, he’s the unlucky 13th player on the roster of young Surrey-area athletes, because on Sunday Dio wasn’t able to make the eight-hour bus trip to Pennsylvania from Mirabel, Quebec, where the Whalley squad went undefeated in eight games to win the national title Saturday.
Instead, he and his father flew home after celebrating the victory.
Dio, whose full name is Dioscoro, is prevented from going to the Little League World Series because of immigration issues that involve his father’s troubled past, although Noe doesn’t want to talk publicly about that in detail.
“I made a mistake when I was young, and I take the responsibility,” said Noe, originally from Mexico.
A lawyer has told the family that if Dio crossed the border into the U.S., he may not be allowed back into Canada.
Dio was born 13 years ago in Las Vegas, and is an American citizen, his father said.
The family came to Canada a decade ago as refugees seeking citizenship, he said.
“We’ve been waiting for that for 10 years,” Noe said Wednesday.
“We are hoping he can still go (to Williamsport), and we talked to the MP here and they say they’re willing to help us, to try to get a permit for Dio to play his favourite sport, to finish the World Series and come back,” he added. “We have been trying very hard for that, and I hope they see it. It’s only for the kid, only for the boy.”
Dio said winning the national championship in Quebec was “a good feeling, probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
“It’s pretty awesome winning the championship and going to the World Series, which is what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go…” he added, his voice trailing off.
Dio has been playing baseball for three years, and practices the game with his father and brothers every chance he gets. Not surprisingly, he wants to play pro one day, after attending university.
“Every day we’re out here, and they want to be at the park,” Noe said of his three eldest sons. “The kids are here and they practice, that’s what we do. You can see it, the passion. I have to keep them on fire.”
Early this year, Dio told his father he wanted to for play for Whalley this spring, for a chance to go the Little League World Series.
“He decided that, to switch (from a Surrey Canadians team), and we talked to Whalley and, after the tryouts, they accepted him,” Noe explained.
Playing as Team Canada now, Whalley’s first game in Williamsport is Friday (Aug. 17) starting at 3 p.m. PDT against Latin America, represented by a squad from Arraijan, Panama.
As of Wednesday, the Gama family, Whalley league officials and supporters were hopeful Dio could still join the team at the big event, even as the clock ticked toward their opening game at the tournament.
“We are saying, just let him play,” Mark Deshane, a vice-president of Whalley Little League, told the Now-Leader. “The kid is qualified and certified under Little League for his play — he’s been here more than two years, so he gets to play, but if it wasn’t for this strange catch in our immigration situation, he would be at the World Series.
Noe said the family hopes everything will soon be resolved, and that Dio is “ready to go.
“It’s a dream for each boy, you know what I mean? We can send him even with the president of Whalley. I talked to him and he says if he’s going, he’s gonna take Dio with him.
With files from The Canadian Press.