The Ocean View Little League All-Star team received the red-carpet treatment upon its return home to Huntington Beach on Monday night.
Arriving to chants of "OV" and "USA," the All-Stars were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd that came out to support the 2011 Little League Baseball World Series champions. The players stood before the gathering as a fireworks display illuminated the league's playing fields at Murdy Park.
Ocean View completed an incredible two-month postseason summer run Sunday by coming from behind to defeat defending champion Japan, 2-1, at Williamsport, Pa. Ocean View is the first Little League team from Orange County to win the title, the second team in three years from California to win it (after Park View Little League of Chula Vista in 2009) and seventh from the state overall in the 65-year history of the iconic tournament.
"I will say that winning the World Series is great, but it really doesn't compare to this right here," Ocean View Coach Tony Cianca told a crowd of about 800 that responded with cheers and whistles. "This is unbelievable."
The past two days have been a whirlwind for Ocean View. The All-Stars defeated Japan and then celebrated their milestone victory later Sunday. Monday, the team traveled to Cleveland and then Houston before making its stretch run to Los Angeles International Airport and then to its home turf.
Only upon seeing the massive gathering at Murdy Park did everything begin to sink in for player Justin Cianca as he stepped into a sea of supporters.
"I thought that there would be a lot of people here to support us, but when we got off the bus, I was shocked," said Cianca, who turned 13 on Monday. "Once I got off the bus and saw the crowd, that's when it all hit me, what we had done. It's crazy and incredible, something I won't forget. This is the best birthday ever."
In Williamsport, Ocean View faced domestic challenges (Rhode Island, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Montana), an international power (Japan) and a serious threat from a force of nature, Hurricane Irene. Ocean View won five of its six games in the series and outscored its opponents 36-4. It posted three shutouts and defeated Northwest Region champion Billings Big Sky Little League (Montana), 11-2, to win the U.S. championship Saturday.
It took one big swing by Steven Kotkosky on Aug. 13 to get Ocean View to Williamsport. His two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning wiped out a 1-0 deficit in the West Regional final against Red Bluff Little League of Northern California and sent Ocean View to its first World Series.
Kotkosky and his teammates were a big hit again during their homecoming.
"It's all been so amazing," the 12-year-old said. "It was so great to meet other teams from around the country and around the world, but coming home here, to this, really is the best part. It's something I'll always remember."
Eric Anderson said he barely remembered crossing home plate with the winning run Sunday. Anderson, a pinch runner, scored from third on Nick Pratto's game-winning hit with two out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
"I was thinking to myself, if Nick gets a base hit, I have to score," Anderson said. "I just took off when I saw the ball go to the outfield. I don't remember jumping up like I did, excited that we had won. All I can remember about the play is everybody rushing out of our dugout and getting mugged. It was the best feeling."
Ocean View won District 62, Section 10, Southern California Regional and West Regional tournament championships to earn its trip to Williamsport.
"It's amazing what these kids have accomplished," said Huntington Beach Mayor Joe Carchio, who was present at Monday's homecoming ceremony. "I'm just so proud of what they did not only for Huntington Beach, but for the county, the state and the United States of America. These kids set a great example by being great role models and ambassadors for our city. They won their World Series title with timely hitting, great pitching and a superb coaching staff. They played as a team."
Ocean View Manager Jeff Pratto, Coach Jose Martinez and players Hagen Danner, Anthony Martinez and Nick Pratto were not part of the returning entourage Monday. They went straight from the World Series in Williamsport to the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Cooperstown Classic tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y. Danner, Anthony Martinez and Nick Pratto play on the So Cal Rebels 12U travel team that is competing this week at Cooperstown. The tournament started Sunday and runs through Friday.
"We're driving through small towns in rural Pennsylvania this morning (Monday) on our way to Cooperstown, and when we stopped to get some breakfast, folks knew who we were," Jeff Pratto said. "Some wanted to take photos of us. It's just a great atmosphere here and a pretty neat feeling."
Upon returning back to their dorms in Williamsport following the team victory celebration Sunday, Pratto said, the team discovered some catcher's gear and a helmet left on one of the doorsteps at the team dorms. It was from the Japanese team, he said.
"It's tradition for teams to exchange some gear, and it was really neat to see that laying there on the doorstep," Pratto said.