BANGOR, Maine — The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is almost universally considered the friendliest team in the Senior League World Series whenever it qualifies for the event — which it has accomplished five times in the last 12 years.
That sportsmanship was on full display again Monday even in defeat, as host Maine District 3 champion Old Town rallied for a 6-2 victory over the Asia Pacific qualifiers at Mansfield Stadium.
As the starting lineups were announced, the players from the island of Saipan in the western Pacific Ocean gave native necklaces to their Old Town counterparts.
Later in the game when Old Town’s Cole Daniel was hit by a Virgil Secharmidal pitch, Secharmidal immediately walked over to first base to shake Daniel’s hand.
“That’s a great group of kids to be around,” said Old Town manager Troy Sheehan after the game. “I don’t know if you saw me during the game but I was talking to them more than I did to my own kids.”
But despite their smiles the CNMI teens were playing through considerable personal pain Monday after learning that a typhoon had ravaged their homeland.
According to the Pacific Daily News, Typhoon Soudelor made a direct hit on Saipan — the largest and most populated of 14 islands in the CNMI chain — late Sunday night and early Monday local time with winds approaching 100 mph.
Saipan is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.
While no critical injuries have yet been reported, the news service said power and landline service was lost, roofs were ripped off houses and several hundred of the island’s 48,000 residents were in shelters.
“This typhoon really hit us hard,” said CNMI manager Greg Camacho during an emotional news conference after his team’s game. “A lot of our kids’ homes were destroyed, their houses got flattened and they’re without power and water.
“From the information we got as well as the clips that we saw, it’s really bad.”
Members of the CNMI traveling party at the Senior League World Series became aware of the typhoon late Sunday.
“We got wind of it last night before midnight,” said Camacho. “We kept trying to make contact back home and we couldn’t get through until after midnight.
“When we heard of it we all gathered up and said a little prayer, and so far none of the kids families’ are injured so we’re thankful for that.”
Camacho said the team did consider leaving the SLWS to return home but decided against it in part because of feedback they received from the island.
“Our families back home advised us, ‘No, no, no, we’ll take care of things, we’ll deal with it, just go ahead and finish what you guys started over there and don’t worry about it,’” he said. “They were the ones that advised us to go ahead and finish up and then come home.
“We told the kids last night that we’re here for a purpose, let’s just try to concentrate on that and play. A couple of them did break down because of what they had heard, but I told them that as much as possible try not to think about it. I’m sure their families are safe, so just hang in there.”
While CNMI players are aware of the general situation back home — Saipan Acting Gov. Ralph DLG Torres declared Saipan “a state of disaster and significant emergency” — some have not been alerted to specifics of their families’ situations.
“A couple of our players, their parents made contact with us and … requested that they will be the ones when we go back home to tell them,” Camacho said.
The storm, now classified as a super typhoon with its sustained winds of at least 150 mph, is considered the strongest tropical cyclone on Earth so far in 2015.
It is expected to track to the west-northwest during the coming days and may approach Japan, Taiwan and China later this week, according to www.weather.com.
Ironically, another typhoon that struck Saipan in early July forced the Asia Pacific baseball tournament from which CNMI qualified for the Senior League World Series to be halted prematurely.
CNMI had a 5-0 record in pool play at that tournament and as a result was awarded the region’s SLWS berth when the remainder of the event was canceled after Tropical Storm Chan-hom was upgraded to Category 1-equivalent typhoon strength.
“This one is worse,” said Camacho. “(With) the one we went through that cut our regional tournament short, the eye of the storm didn’t hit us directly, it went south of us. This one, the eye did pass straight above Saipan.”