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Russia's Boys Bat a Perfect Game and become World Champs!

In a special for PRAVDA.Ru, John L. Kelleher tells us about the great game and its outstanding stars as well as how Russia earned the title of International Little League Champions
Anton Chekalin is only eleven years old, but yesterday he made his name in Russian history. With two out in the sixth inning Anton belted a base hit. That hit started a rally that led the European champion Khovrino (Moscow) Little League team to a 2-0 victory over Pacific champ Guam. And that victory marks the first time a Russian team has ever won a game in the Little League World Series.

Guam's pitcher had been throwing a perfect game until Chekalin came to bat. But following Chekalin, Russia’s pitcher, Evgeniy Vorotyntsev and catcher Kiril Starodubov got successive hits, Starobudov driving in the winning run.

The lanky Vorotyntsev threw a spectacular game, striking out 12 and allowing only 2 hits and 4 walks in six innings. He said he felt "excellent" through the fourth inning, but after that he began to feel tired. It never showed and he got the shutout and the win.

Chekalin was pleased with his performance. When a reporter jokingly asked him what he thought about getting Russia's first hit and ruining the Guam pitcher's perfect game, he replied simply "Cool!"

Starobudov admitted that he didn't expect to win this game. He was ready for a long game with extra innings. But his broad smile showed how happy he was to have been a part of proving himself wrong.

Manager Vladimir Eltchaninov was exceptionally proud of his team. Along with coaches Mikhail Kornev and Andrei Tselykovskiy, he has worked hard to bring the youngsters to their level of play. "It is difficult because baseball is not a popular sport in Russia … yet," he says.

Although they have brought a team to Williamsport three years in a row, they had never before won a game. "The skill level here is much higher than we are used to," says Eltchaninov.

The Little League World Series brings together the sixteen best teams of 11 - and 12-year-olds in the world. Eight teams are from regions in the United States while the other eight teams represent different parts of the world. Russia advanced to the Series by winning the European regional title last month at a tournament in Kutno, Poland.

Eltchaninov and Kornev both learned baseball when they were children in New York. Their parents worked at the United Nations, and the boys learned to play stickball with the other kids nearby.

Today the Khovrino Little League plays ball at the Druzhba [“Friendship”] Park in north Moscow. But watch these boys - you may see them again in a few years playing on the Russian Olympic baseball team.

John L. Kelleher, IBM Scholars Program - North America

IBM Data Management Group, Denver, Colorado

Photo (c) 2003 Little League Baseball