They faced rain, mosquitoes, even 6-foot-tall outfielders with mustaches.
But the 13-year-old baseball players from Thousand Oaks came home champions Sunday, clinching Little League baseball's Junior League World Series the day before with a stunning 20-3 victory over an Ohio team.
"It was like the best game of the whole year," said Wes Munyon, an outfielder for the all-star team, bringing together the best players from different teams in the Thousand Oaks Little League. "We all played a good game."
The flash of cameras and whirl of video recorders greeted the 14 players as they returned to Los Angeles International Airport parading their World Series banner, the first Thousand Oaks has won.
"Give me a T!" shouted one woman in the crowd of cheering parents and supporters. "Give me an O!" she continued, as a few other enthusiastic parents joined the call.
Many parents had just returned from Taylor, Mich., where they watched the team trounce the oversized 13-year-olds from Hamilton, Ohio, on Saturday.
Tim Heyne, whose son, Jeff, is an outfielder, spent the game on the telephone to California, providing play-by-play commentary for a radio station.
The game had its share of highlights. Shortstop Kevin Howard hit two three-run homers in the first two innings. Pitcher Chris Strauser, his hands swollen from an allergic reaction to mosquito bites, managed a no-hitter for six of the game's seven innings.
Wes caught a fly ball at the fence with two outs and two players on base, costing Ohio three runs. And 12 of Thousand Oaks' 14 players either had hits or scored runs. It was a backup player, Aaron Borenstein, who caught the high fly to center field for the final out.
"Our bench was one of the reasons that we got here," said Thousand Oaks coach Craig Frazier. "We had the best bench in the game."
Coaches and parents also credit the team's long history together for its success.
"These kids have been together since they were 8," Tim Heyne said. "We always thought they could win a World Series."
Many of the winners have also played together on other all-star teams over the years. Eleven of the 14 members were part of a team that came close to winning a division title last year.
Kevin Howard, then playing for a Woodland Hills team, was part of the squad that defeated the Thousand Oaks boys last year, ending their World Series aspirations.
After that, Thousand Oaks coaches and players persuaded Kevin to join his hometown team. His pitching and hitting, including the two homers in the championship game, helped clinch the title.
"It was a team that was ready to bust out, and they finally did," said Ed Kitchen, the team's manager.
Kitchen began working with the players last year, when they were competing in tournaments for 11- and 12-year-old boys. He and Frazier kept the team working together throughout the winter and early spring, competing with older players at times. The parents hired a coach, Mark Davis, to work with the team's pitchers.
During this year's regular season, the boys who were later picked for the winning all-star team played on six different Little League teams. The same group came back together in late June and played their first game as a team in July.
Fifteen games and four tournaments later, they won a place in this year's World Series for teams of 13-year-olds.
The Thousand Oaks players opened the series with a victory over Puerto Rico, whose team won the tournament last year. Thousand Oaks then defeated the Florida champions and the Ohio team for a place in the final game.
There they met the Ohio team again. The skies threatened rain, something the manager feared would stump his fair-weather team from Southern California. Chris Strauser's hands were puffy from mosquito bites. And the Ohio athletes towered over their Thousand Oaks counterparts. Some players said the Ohio team had the tallest players they'd seen in the tournament, some even sporting mustaches.
But from the first inning, the local boys dominated.
"The team from Ohio can't play year-round," Kitchen said. "We do. That's why we're so seasoned."
Still, the World Series title amazed him.
"Every year the odds are 7,200 to 1," said Kitchen, his Windbreaker still spattered with mud from the roughhousing after Saturday's game.
Kitchen took off his cap and revealed the stubble of a newly shaved head. "I told the kids if we made it to the World Series, I'd shave my head," he said, grinning. He let each player take a turn with the clippers.
The team can go at it again next year in the competition for 14- and 15-year-old boys. But in another year, the players could begin joining high school teams, too old for Little League. At least two of the team members, Kevin Howard and Chris Strauser, hope for professional careers.
"That's the goal of my life," Kevin said.
As he talked about his life's goals, teammates hurried him into the waiting limousine that would whisk them off to a radio interview at KNJO in Thousand Oaks.
The team roster also includes Fran Adams, Manuel Apodaco, Ryan Ayers, Ethan East, Doug Hutton, Zeke Morrow, Kris Palomares, Matt Rogers and Jon Shepard.