It was three years ago this coming summer, that Huntington Beach took center stage nationally and internationally, on the youth sports scene.
In late-August of 2011, the Ocean View Little League All-Star team (11-12 year-olds) made it all the way to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League Baseball World Series. Ocean View not only qualified for the tournament, but also won the coveted title.
Since that time, the 13 members of that memorable squad have all moved on. Each, now, is in high school, several at the same school, Huntington Beach High, and although not all are walking the halls on the same campus, they all have one thing in common: all 13, are still playing baseball.
"That's pretty rare," said Jeff Pratto, the manager of the World Series-winning team. "All 13 of these kids are still in the game."
Pratto, and coaches Tony Cianca and Jose Martinez, were part of a gathering at the Ocean View Little League Major division field Sunday that brought together 12 of the 13 members of the 2011 All-Star team. The players lined up to take a new team photo in their respective high school uniforms, reprising a pose captured in a photo taken in their Ocean View All-Star uniforms at the Little League World Series that August.
The photo reunion was the brainstorm of Pratto and Denise Cianca, the Team Mom for that 2011 Ocean View All-Star Team.
"It was [Pratto's] idea, I just ran with it," Denise Cianca said.
Three summers ago, this group was enjoying the thrill of reaching the ultimate destination for Little League teams, then experienced the unbridled joy of winning a World Series championship.
Today, these 13 players have made their way onto various high school rosters: Nick Pratto (freshman, Mater Dei, varsity team); Hagen Danner (Fr., Huntington Beach, varsity team); Braydon Salzman (Soph., Ocean View, varsity team); Jason Mayorga (Soph., Huntington Beach, junior varsity team); Jack Furry (Soph., Huntington Beach, JV team); Trevor Windisch (Fr., Huntington Beach, frosh team); Christian Catano (Fr., Huntington Beach,, frosh team); Justin Cianca (Fr., Huntington Beach, frosh team); Steven Kotkosky (Fr., Huntington Beach, frosh team); Ryo Takada (Soph., Edison, JV team); Anthony Martinez (Soph., Huntington Beach, JV team); Dylan Palmer (Fr., Huntington Beach, frosh team), and Eric Anderson (Fr., Marina, frosh team).
Pratto said that Salzman was the only All-Star not present for Sunday's photo reunion.
The team, and parents of the players, went out for a pizza celebration after the photo shoot.
"It's almost been a full three years, and things have changed," said Jeff Pratto whose son, Nick, is now a freshman playing on varsity at Mater Dei. "Nick is still good friends with some of these guys, and with social media, a lot of these kids stay in touch with one another.
"It doesn't seem that long ago that we all were at Ocean View. They look like young men now."
"It is different now, than what it used to be," said Nick Pratto who pitches and plays first base and in the outfield at Mater Dei.
Nick Pratto delivered a two-out, bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the sixth and final inning in the Aug. 28 World Series final, lifting Ocean View to a 2-1 victory over Hamamatsu City, Japan.
"Now, we barely see each other, but it did feel like old times the other day (Sunday)," he said. "It was weird seeing everybody in different uniforms."
A right fielder, Steven Kotkosky is one of several former Ocean View players now in the Huntington Beach baseball program.
"I think it's great to see everyone, and how they are succeeding at the next level," he said. "When we met up, it was just like we all saw each other yesterday. Everyone just started talking and getting caught up.
"I think the Little League World Series experience has helped us today. It was an amazing experience. A lot of these guys are clutch players today. And I think it's really interesting that all 13 of us, are still playing."
Ocean View's unforgettable run three years ago saw this All-Star team finish with a 23-2 overall record and its postseason play included winning District 62, Section 10, Southern California Divisional, West Regional, and World Series championships.
The team went 5-1 at the Little League World Series and became the first team from Orange County to win the championship.
Christian Catano, a starter who is a right-handed pitcher and plays outfield on the Huntington Beach freshman team, said despite some of his All-Star brethren playing today at different schools, the bond remains.
"It was great to get caught up and see how much we've changed, he said. "We do stay in touch, but time has gone by pretty quickly and it's hard to believe it was three years ago. We became connected, like brothers, after winning the Little League World Series."