SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) – After 15 seasons in the majors, Mike Stanley finally made it to a world series. He can thank his son.

Stanley and another former major leaguer, Dante Bichette, are coaches on the Maitland, Fla., team at the Little League World Series.

Now, Stanley looks around and marvels at the sights: anxious kids punching gloves, groundskeepers tending pristine fields, green mountains towering beyond the outfield fence.

“Look how beautiful this place is, to have a mountainside as your backdrop,” Stanley said as he walked back from batting practice Thursday with his 11-year-old son, Tanner.

“I’m past my time playing,” he said. “It’s time for these kids to start enjoying things.”

The Maitland team has been in town since Monday, and Stanley and Bichette have drawn much of the buzz so far.

“Look at them, I’m pretty sure they are going to produce,” said Shon Muna, manager of the Pacific region champion team from Guam, as his players took swings at a batting cage next to the Maitland team.

Stanley hit 187 home runs during a career that ended in 2000. His longest postseason run was in 1999 with the Boston Red Sox team that lost the American League championship series to the New York Yankees.

Bichette’s only postseason appearance came in 1995, when his Colorado Rockies lost a divisional round series to the Atlanta Braves. Bichette, who played for Boston in 2000 and 2001, hit 274 home runs in a 14-year career, finishing after the 2001 season. He was part of the Blake Street Bombers lineup that powered Colorado in the 1990s.

Today, Bichette says his focus is on his son, Dante Jr., and the rest of his Maitland teammates.

Father and son came to the Little League World Series in 2003 as spectators, where Bichette says his son’s dreams of coming back as a player took fruit.

“I did what any dad would do when a kid says he’s got a dream. I went out there and helped him chase it,” Bichette said.

Like most teams at the series, Maitland is an all-star squad of players in the local league. Stanley managed one team and Bichette coached on another.

Now they’re both first-time coaches at the series under manager Sid Cash, who has been involved in Little League for three decades.

“I’m fortunate enough where I still get to do the things that I’ve done for Little League for 30 years and that’s coach third base and call pitches,” Cash said. “I get a lot of input from Dante and Mike.”

Their kids played big roles in the regional championship game that got Maitland a trip to South Williamsport. Tanner Stanley, a first baseman, had an RBI single, while Dante Bichette Jr. threw a four-hitter, including eight strikeouts.

“Every time you do something for your little boy, it’s got to rank higher than personal achievement,” Bichette said.

Notes: Opening ceremonies were canceled Friday afternoon following a morning rain that drenched the Lamade Stadium field. … Larry Bowa is the 2005 recipient of the William A. Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award. It will be presented to the former shortstop before the Aug. 28 championship game. … Little Leaguers could take swings at new batting cages, with room for six players to take practice cuts.

AP-ES-08-19-05 1551EDT


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