When pitcher Kiko Garcia struck out the final Taiwanese batter Sunday, several hundred exuberant fans at Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Co. were quick to pick up the chant: “We are the champions.”
Chula Vista’s Park View Little League team, dubbed the Blue Bombers, beat Taoyuan, Taiwan, 6-3, to climb the tallest mountain in Little League: the world championship at the annual tournament at South Williamsport, Pa.
It did so with a come-from-behind victory, snappy fielding, poise and sportsmanship.
For a city that often feels overshadowed by more glamorous neighbors, and was dissed by a national magazine as boring, the victory was particularly sweet.
No San Diego County team had won a championship at Williamsport since the La Mesa-El Cajon team of 1961 (two members of which were at Oggi’s to cheer for Park View). The last California team to win the world championship was Long Beach in 1993.
“This never happened before in Chula Vista,” said Alexjandra Pacheco, 17, at Oggi’s with other members of the cheering squad from Otay Ranch High. “This is once in a lifetime.”
Bulla Graft’s sharp single scored the go-ahead run in the fourth inning and Garcia pitched three-plus scoreless innings of relief in the victory. He completed his team’s comeback from a 3-0 deficit by striking out Yu Chieh Kao.
Like many cities that have experienced rapid growth, Chula Vista’s politics often have an old vs. new split -- the city’s older neighborhoods are west of Interstate 805, the new master-planned communities and shopping areas -- such as the one with Oggi’s -- are largely east of I-805.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox sees the success of Garcia, Andy Rios, Luke Ramirez, Graft and other members of the team as a cohesive factor in the sometimes fractious city.
“This is the kind of thing that brings everybody in the community together,” Cox said.
To keep the good vibes going, a parade and rally is planned for Friday, with the Little League players arriving on fire engines, with a police escort and a band.
Several hundred fans packed Oggi’s hours before the game to get favored spots near the two dozen televisions. Former San Diego residents Hector and Michelle Flores drove in from their new home in Yuma, Ariz.
“This team is just too exciting to just sit home and watch it,” said Hector Flores, 39, a contractor.
Excitement, of course, is not a word often associated with Chula Vista. Forbes magazine ruffled local feathers in January when it named the city one of the 10 most boring in the country.
“This is boring?” said Cox. “No way.”
Located 10 miles south of San Diego, Chula Vista (population 227,000) is the county’s second largest city but often feels overshadowed in the public mind by the big city and the affluent suburbs to its north: Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Encinitas.
Sports is important to Chula Vista’s self-image as an up-and-coming municipality; the U.S. Olympic Committee has a training facility here.
The city had hoped to lure the San Diego Chargers to town by building a venue to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium. But those plans appear to be tanking amid the national recession; the collapse of the housing market hit Chula Vista particularly hard.
Don Rhodes, 51, a retired Chula Vista police officer and former Park View Little League president, said there is considerable annoyance that Little League teams from the northern part of the county -- Oceanside, Vista and Poway -- get more media coverage, while Chula Vista is overlooked.
“Not today,” said Rhodes, shouting to be heard over the celebratory din at Oggi’s. “This is a team from south county, from south of Interstate 8, and they are the champions of the world!”
Associated Press contributed to this report.