- Associated Press - Monday, August 18, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Whether the players are Little Leaguers or Major Leaguers, earning a spot on an All-Star team has a way of turning past enemies into future friends.

That has proven true with the Canyon Lake Little League All-Stars, who first came together as a team well over a month ago.

Many of the players have come from being opponents who played on competing teams during the regular season, to now becoming comrades playing in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

But the World Series experience has brought another benefit that culminated Monday when Canyon Lake beat the Czech Republic 5-3 in a consolation game - a connection to other cultures.

But the ties between the Canyon Lake All-Stars developed first.

Some liken the bonding that occurs during three weeks on the road to a brotherhood.

“They now have bonded as a team; they will always have this friendship,” Canyon Lake coach Rich Hegre told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1kOyenF ). “Whether they don’t see each other in school or if they do, they will always have a friendship. It’s more like a brotherhood; we’ve been on the road for three weeks. They get crabby at each other, but it is like they are family now. That, in itself, will live far beyond memories.”

Player Dylan Richey said guys have gotten closer during the tournament, which has led to a pair of defeats and title elimination and culminated with Monday’s consolation game.

It’s not like they previously disliked each other. Richey talks about the fact that many of the players played against one another throughout the years, including this season. Then, they were trying to beat each other.

“Now we are friends,” Richey said. “It’s for one league, one city.”

The team got to know itself in a hurry as it prepared for the South Dakota/North Dakota District Tournament.

Two-a-day practices got them kick-started in the right direction, and it led to a run that was supported locally and televised nationally.

“As a team, we got to know each other really fast and it has helped us out on the field,” third baseman/pitcher Blake Weaver said.

But while on the road for the last three weeks, like most siblings, the players didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things.

“We’re more like brothers than friends,” shortstop/pitcher Matthew Hegre said. “We get into arguments, but we always get out of them. It’s just the way it goes, I guess.”

The Rapid City players not only befriended each other in a hurry, the same happened at regionals and now in the Little League World Series. They are making new friends from different parts of the country and the world.

Friendships are common since they are all housed together - eight American teams and eight international teams.

When the All-Stars are not playing, practicing, or just hanging at the ballpark, they spend a lot of time in the rec room. Naturally, it takes on a competitive basis.

“We like to play ping pong against other teams,” Weaver said. “Australia is the best; they are really good.”

The Rapid City team has developed a bit of a bond with the Australian squad.

“We’re friends with Australia; we got to know them in the rec room. They’re cool,” Matthew Hegre said.

Hanging out with players from different countries not only has been fun for the group, but it has been educational . so to speak.

“It’s fun to teach other kids different languages and have them teach us different languages. I haven’t learned any Japanese, but I have learned a couple of Spanish words,” Weaver said.

Weaver acknowledges that he didn’t expect to become friends with players from other teams, let alone other countries, because baseball can be so competitive.

“I thought we would just come here and play games, and be like rivals,” Weaver said. “Now, everybody is like friends. It’s just really cool to see how other people are interacting with each other.”

When it is all said and done, and the Canyon Lake teams is back in Rapid City getting ready for school or fall sports, they’ll look back and remember fondly the journey, especially making it to South Williamsport.

“We’ll always still have the connection of Williamsport and how it happened,” Richey said.

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