Baseball fans far and wide dream of making a pilgrimage to the sport's greatest shrine, its Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Alameda Little League players Max Nyrop and Joe Depinna -- currently seventh graders at Lincoln Middle School-- will experience the wonders firsthand when they travel to the Cooperstown International Little League Tournament in late July.

The tournament, which will involve teams from around and outside the United States, takes place during induction weekend, July 25-28.

Despite their youth -- Depinna turned 13 in May and Nyrop turns 13 in July -- both understand the significance of the Hall of Fame.

"Oh absolutely... both kids are really into baseball," said Mike Depinna, Joe's father. "They understand that these are the best of the best."

As two of Alameda Little League's top players, both Joe Depinna and Nyrop have impressed in their final seasons of majors division eligibility. For the record, both throw right-handed. Both bat right-handed, too, though Joe Depinna has experimented with switch-hitting.

During the Alameda Little League regular season, Joe Depinna plays for the Pappo Athletics and Nyrop for the Dr. Vicki Wang Orthodontics Twins. For the Cooperstown tournament, however, the pair will compete for the Belmont-based Norcal Storm, for whom Joe Depinna serves as a pitcher, shortstop and second baseman, and Nyrop as a pitcher, first baseman and third baseman.


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"There's at least 120 some-odd teams that are going to take part in the tournament," Mike Depinna said. "There's an opening ceremony and an exchange of pins (with players from the other teams)."

A fund-raising event for the Cooperstown trip, Casino Night/Poker Tournament, takes place in Redwood City on May 31.

Both players already have excelled with the Storm, playing instrumental roles in three tournament championships this season. Both have won tournament most valuable player awards as well.

Regional competition has taken place in such cities as Manteca, Sunnyvale, Fremont and Sacramento, so traveling across the country -- especially to Cooperstown -- will stay in the memories of both players for a lifetime. Those games involving international play, however, will be nothing new to Nyrop, who returned from an 18-month stay in Hong Kong in December.

For Nyrop, Little League baseball in Hong Kong was a cosmopolitan experience in itself, with teams representing the city's Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Western communities.

"It was a fabulous experience," Steve Nyrop, father of Max, said of the family's time in Hong Kong. "If we could have stayed longer, I think we would have. It's nice to be back in Alameda, back to things that are familiar, but it was a great experience."

While in Hong Kong, Max Nyrop became a bit of a celebrity. He competed for a Japanese team ..."Max saw their passion for baseball," Steve Nyrop said. "With his blond hair, he stuck out like a sore thumb, but he got close to (his teammates)."

And if reaching the majors division as an 11-year-old didn't suffice, Max also played well enough to represent Hong Kong in Little League's International Tournament. Specifically, this meant a trip to the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific playoffs.

"His team was two games away from going to Williamsport (Pa., home of the Little League World Series)," Steve Nyrop said. "They exchanged pins. It was something I don't think he'll ever forget."

As for joining a Belmont-based team, it was Joe Depinna who searched for a team to play for after the Alameda fall ball season ended, and the Storm was a good fit. For their part, the Storm coaches immediately noticed Joe's talent both in the field and with the bat.

Max joined the Storm soon after returning from Hong Kong

"As far as composure and being part of a different team (the Hong Kong experience really helped him)," Steve Nyrop said of his son. "With Belmont, he felt comfortable with them right away. And to their credit, they made him feel comfortable right away."

Though both players have displayed an aptitude and passion for baseball, they have competed in other sports, too. Each has played basketball and Joe also has competed for the Alameda Table Tennis Club in local tournaments.

"I like Joe playing table tennis because it helps him work on his reflexes," said Mike Depinna, also an active member of the Alameda Table Tennis Club.

In July, Joe Depinna and Max Nyrop will live the dream of many when they visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. And they'll also compete in a tournament that promises to leave them with memories to last a lifetime.

Notes: The May 31 Casino Night/Poker Tournament fund-raiser takes place from 6-9 p.m. at Sandpiper Elementary School, 801 Redwood Shores Parkway in Redwood City. Tickets are $30 and an additional $60 for the poker tournament. For tickets or prize donations, visit norcalstorm.com.

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