Rice starts off Little League World Series with major blasts

Jim Rice, former Boston Red Sox player and a recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, throws out the first pitch before the Staten Island, N.Y., versus Mercer Island, Wash., baseball game, in pool play of the Little League World Series Friday in South Williamsport, Pa.<BR><I>AP?photo</I>

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Jim Rice criticized today's major leaguers as too individualistic, then offered Little Leaguers some old-school tips: Respect your opponents, don't showboat, and stay off performance-enhancing drugs.

To stress his point at a news conference Friday before the start of the Little League World Series, the new baseball Hall of Famer flexed the muscles in his right arm and said, "That's all the steroids you need. ... It's called God-given talent."

Rice said today's major leaguers fraternize with each other too much on the field, adding that while today's ballplayers might be in better shape than his generation in its heyday, they get injured more frequently.

"You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), you see (Derek) Jeter ... Guys that I played against and with, these guys you're talking about cannot compare," Rice told the Little Leaguers.

Nick Pucciarelli - all 5-foot-4 and 122 pounds of him - put on a hitting display Friday that would have made Rice proud.

The 12-year-old outfielder homered and tripled as Staten Island, N.Y., beat Mercer Island, Wash., 10-2, on the opening day of the series.

Staten Island's players didn't get to hear Rice's talk because they were getting ready for their game, though the former Boston Red Sox outfielder did offer the New Yorkers some hitting advice in the dugout.

"He was telling us how to hit line drives and groundballs. If you roll your hands over, it's always going to be a ground ball. So how to punch the baseball for line drives," Pucciarelli said, mimicking a hitting motion.

Manager Michael Zaccariello, sitting two seats over, whispered a gentle reminder.

"You guys have heard that before, right," he asked, as Pucciarelli nodded. Zaccariello said the team's hitting coach, Glen Morisano, gives the same tips to the players.

"Just checking," the manager said.

The other winners Friday also put on shows at the plate.

Taoyuan, Taiwan routed Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, 16-0, in a contest shortened to four innings because of the 10-run rule. Yu Chieh Kao had a three-run homer as Taiwan scored 12 times over the first two innings.

Offering a faint smile, Kao tilted his head and tugged nervously at the buttons on his jersey when asked about his homer.

"I told myself relax, take your time, and I did it," the 12-year-old catcher said through interpreter Ming Huang Yeh.

Later Friday, Warner Robins, Ga., beat Urbandale, Iowa, 11-3, while San Antonio, Texas, used a six-run fourth to defeat Peabody, Mass., 10-1 in the nightcap.

Rice got the day started with a resounding criticism of the current generation of big leaguers while giving a talk to Little Leaguers in a cafeteria. There's too much focus on individual goals and getting big contracts, he said.

The outfielder played 16 seasons in Boston, batting .298 with 382 homers before retiring in 1989.

"We didn't have the baggy uniforms. We didn't have the dreadlocks," Rice said. "It was a clean game, and now they're setting a bad example for the young guys."

When asked later about Rice, most of the Little Leaguers said they were only vaguely familiar with the outfielder. "He went back to old school and how he played," said Trey Maddox, Georgia's 12-year-old third baseman.

Texas shortstop Steven Cardone said Rice inspired him.

"And he was right about how major leaguers do more for show and money than for the love of the game," the 12-year-old said.

Rice wasn't the only notable name at the complex Friday. Retired New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, a central Pennsylvania native who is on Little League's board of directors, watched the Staten Island game, along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


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