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Baseball newcomer's drive helps Lincoln High fulfill Dodger Stadium dreams

Eric Sondheimer
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Eric Sondheimer on high schools: Baseball newcomer's drive helps Lincoln High fulfill Dodger Stadium dreams

If you don't believe dreams come true, if you don't think hard work leads to success, if you don't understand the meaning of commitment, meet Hung Ta, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles Lincoln High who arrived in the United States from Vietnam in the third grade and didn't start playing baseball until a year ago.

"My friend told me to play baseball as a freshman," he said. "I tried out and made it to JVs. I worked hard every single day in order to play varsity level. And I'm going to Dodger Stadium on Saturday."

The lights from Dodger Stadium can be seen at night from Lincoln's football field three miles away. Since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, Lincoln players have wanted to play there.

The late Bobby Castillo got his chance as a major leaguer. And now the Lincoln Tigers will finally get their opportunity in Saturday's 10 a.m. City Section Division II championship game against San Fernando Chavez.

"For all of us, it's a dream come true," said Joe Romero, a 1970 Lincoln graduate who spent 13 years as a Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detective and is in his sixth season as head coach. "This is historic. This is for all the players who've played at Lincoln."

The most improbable player has to be Hung Ta, a 5-foot-7 left fielder who was given a glove when he showed up for tryouts last season.

"He was the best of the worst," junior varsity Coach Eliazar Lozano said. "We put him in with the group that could hardly catch so they wouldn't get hurt."

Varsity players told Romero not to cut anyone.

"Coach, we'll help them," they promised.

Ta, an A student, quickly learned the game. He watched videos on YouTube and practiced catching balls at home and on the field. He hit over .500 and was the fastest player on the JV as a freshman. He got moved up to varsity before the season ended.

"He was so disciplined," Romero said. "When I would tell him something, he'd do it."

A year later, there was Ta on Tuesday afternoon at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in a semifinal game against South Gate, contributing an RBI single and participating in the post-game dogpile after a 4-3 walk-off win on a suicide squeeze bunt in the seventh inning.

Ta said he was going to call his grandmother in Vietnam and tell her, "I'm going to Dodger Stadium."

Romero still isn't sure if Ta understands the accomplishment.

"It's a good thing, because I don't think he knows the pressure," he saiid. "His emotion is the same. He's very quiet. He's one of those kids you love to coach because he sucks everything in. Academics is a priority. You find a diamond in the rough and now have to polish him and take advantage of his speed and intelligence."

Ta probably has a better chance of becoming a doctor or lawyer than a major-league baseball player, but for one glorious day, he and his teammates will be able live out a baseball fantasy. They've already given a great gift to the alumni such as Romero, who used to walk from Lincoln Heights as a child to Dodger Stadium

"I told the kids, "You fulfilled my dream. We've made it to the top of the hill and now we have to fulfill the mission,'" Romero said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: LATSondheimer

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