In the Pipeline: Little Leaguers show grace in the spotlight

When I first spoke to Ocean View Little League manager Jeff Pratto, it was hard to hear him.

As he explained over the noise behind him, he and the team had just arrived in Williamsport, Pa., hallowed home to the Little League World Series. They were about to take part in a parade featuring all of the teams from around the world that had earned their place in the sun (or, as it turned out, some rain too).

Such was the continued dreamlike trail for the Surf City Boys of Summer, a poised, disciplined group of young players who, under Pratto and his equally poised and disciplined coaching staff, found themselves sitting on the cusp of that rarest of baseball achievements — a World Series championship.

I remember playing in Little League All Stars back in the early 1970s. We'd won a couple of games, and all of a sudden, all we had to do was win about 15 more to make it to Williamsport. That never happened, but following this team today is a wonderful reminder of the power of the game and the strangely beautiful sound of dreams coming true.

Have you been following them? Last Sunday, the Ocean View Little League, representing the West Region, beat La Grange, Ky. 10-0. Two days earlier, they'd defeated Rhode Island 11-0.

Twenty-one runs, and not one home run. Rather, they relied on key hitting and great pitching, the hallmarks of most great teams.

I spoke with Pratto after the first game, and he did not seem too shocked at the outcome.

"I expected we'd win," he said, "but never did I imagine an 11-0 victory. I just have great faith in these kids and their abilities. I mean, our top four guys had just two hits between them — so that says a lot about the depth and determination of this team."

I was curious how the kids were dealing with the pressure of the environment — the throngs of fans, the ESPN coverage. Was it having an effect at all?

"Not really," he said. "As far as ESPN goes, the only real effect they have is we can't leave the dugout until they say go, when the broadcast starts. That's no big deal. The game really remains the same as it is back home in Huntington Beach. Except for the rain delay — we don't get a lot of that back home."

Pratto, who said this series will be the end of his managing career, told me that organizers take special care to shield the players from too many distractions.

"They're great," he said. "They keep us locked down pretty good. Security is good. We get to practice normally and go to the batting cages and all.

"The kids really are having fun. There are no assigned tables for eating, so they're getting to meet kids from all over the world. And in the dorm, we're right next to the Canadian team.

"It's an awesome experience for these kids. I mean, there were 42,000 people at (one of the) games … a new record. Talk about the memories these kids will have."

As for Pratto's son, Nick, after this series he'll be heading up to Cooperstown, N.Y., to play in another tournament. Then it's down to North Carolina to try out for Team USA. But for now, all focus is on the series in Williamsport.

After Sunday's 10-0 rout against Kentucky, I spoke to Pratto again, and he conveyed that the kids are not getting over-confident — not even close to it.

"Part of what I preach is cautious optimism and that we'll take things one day at a time," he said. "But these kids are pretty savvy at this point and very businesslike. For them, it's just about getting the next game, no big jumping around or celebrating or anything. Just being calm and cool.

"Our next opponent, Montana, is undefeated, so we know what we're up against. What happens will happen, but our goal is to be America's best — that's what's on the player's minds as well."

Before ending our conversation, Pratto wondered, "Are people back home interested in this?"

I assured him many are.

"Good," he said. "These kids deserve the attention. They're really playing their hearts out."

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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