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Thinking the World of Little Leaguers

Because it is so uncool, I make it a rule never to say congratulations to anyone for anything. No cheering. I never write: “The Dodgers made it to the World Series today by defeating the Giants. Way to go, dudes!”

But because I happen to be a San Fernando Valley boy, I am breaking that rule today. I want to add my congratulations to some young guys, my guys, the Quake Kids, who have done the community of Northridge proud by qualifying for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., which could be the only World Series we see all year.

On Jan. 17, an earthquake put the town on the national map in a way it really regretted. How neat it would be to post new signposts at the city limits--Home of the Little League World Champions--and become the epicenter of baseball. Have your quake and eat it, too.

Long Beach kicked some Little League butt the last couple of years, and now Northridge gets its chance.

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They play in this league for low wages--pizza. So wouldn’t it be nice to see three or four of the Dodgers get together and discuss traveling to Williamsport to root for these players, as a demonstration of support for some kids who have long rooted for them? Make a nice gesture.

I also have some good advice to give the Northridge team, which defeated one from Hawaii, 17-7, in a regional final Friday night at San Bernardino. Since this was virtually the only game in town, local newspapers and television covered it with everything but reverse-angle replays and Tim McCarver.

Here are three things you Northridge guys should remember:

1--You have already won. Try hard, don’t get too down if you lose, don’t rub it in if you win, don’t throw Gatorade on the coach unless it’s really cold.

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2--If you lose to the Philippines, don’t forget, ask to see the birth certificates.

3--Don’t charge for autographs.

Oh, and you might like to pick up a copy of a very fine book, “The Little Team That Could,” to read on the plane. It was written by Jeff Burroughs, the former big league slugger and American League MVP who helped coach Long Beach’s team to two Little League World Series championships.

This book tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Williamsport except where’s Waldo.

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It tells you about Jeff’s son, Sean, who was one of the big stars of the team, and I do mean big. Sean ended up sitting with David Letterman on national TV. He looked as comfortable in that chair as Teri Garr.

Sean wasn’t exactly shy. On Page 229, his father tells of how a reporter asked Sean what he wanted to be when he grew up. Even at my age, I am too embarrassed to print Sean’s answer.

And then there was Jeremy Hess, who was the last guy to get off the bench at Williamsport when he ripped one to the wall in right-center and won the World Series.

The players usually stay confined to a compound, but one night Jeremy and his family went to a restaurant, where they ran into Jeff Burroughs. When the coach returned to the compound, he saw police cars and cops and panicky parents. One of the Long Beach boys was missing.

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“Who?” Burroughs asked.

“Jeremy Hess,” was the answer.

A very relieved coach was able to reassure everyone that he knew exactly where Jeremy was.

I suppose my favorite anecdote in Burroughs’ book has to do with a sportswriter. Dave Cunningham of the Long Beach Press-Telegram had long been covering and accompanying the team. On the plane trip home, the coaches got to sit in first class. Cunningham sat in back with kids who pelted each other with peanuts and pillows.

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“And then he did something he had never done in 22 years as a sportswriter,” Burroughs wrote. “He told a group of athletes to sit down and shut up.”

I had a great time watching TV interviews Friday night after the Northridge game, after Peter Tuber and Matt Cunningham and Nathaniel Dunlap and Matt Fisher and Justin Gentile and David Teraoka and Michael Frost and everybody else did such a good job.

Have a great trip, guys. I promise never to tell you to shut up.

Oh, one more thing. For you Northridge parents.

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Some of the Long Beach people drew up a big banner last year, with “Long Beach Can’t Be Stopped” on it. The letters “CBS” were written extra-large, so the TV cameras could catch it. Which was cool, except for one thing.

The game was on ESPN.


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