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Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Congratulations, Rancho Buena Vista Little Leaguers.
Sit back and enjoy reflecting on a trip to baseball’s Disneyland, the Little League World Series at South Williamsport, Pa. You deserved the experience with your teamwork, your sportsmanship and your understanding of the game.
Just qualifying for the World Series is an accomplishment, but you also won four straight games to advance to the U.S. final before the magical ride came to an end with a loss. But even then you bounced back to win the third-place game on Sunday against a team from Japan.
You’re fortunate to have played for coaches, manager Marty Miller and assistants Joe Pimentel and Randy Reznicek, who have groomed you well with proper fundamentals. Kids your age don’t make leaping catches over the fence without being schooled on how to get a jump on hard hit balls. They don’t execute bunts to advance runners or demonstrate a textbook hook slide to beat a throw at the plate in pressure situations without proper instruction.
But now that September is upon us and you’re going to back to school, it’s time to get back to work. If you don’t learn in the classroom and on the field, well, your World Series experience will be your 15 minutes of fame.
Much of your success is owed to being more physically mature than most 12-year-olds. From now on, other kids will be gaining on you physically. Some will catch up by the start of high school, some by the end of high school and some in your college-age years.
It’s a fact of nature. That’s why it’s not unusual to see Little League World Series players fail to go on to play high school baseball, let alone continue in college or professionally in the minor or Major Leagues.
On the 1961 El Cajon/La Mesa Northern team that won the World Series, the best athlete turned out to be Brian Sipe, and his pro sport wasn’t baseball. He was a role player on the Little League team, but he grew up to become a quarterback at San Diego State and NFL MVP in 1980 with the Cleveland Browns.
On the 1981 Escondido National team that won the West Regional to advance to the World Series, Brett Salisbury (no, not Sean Salisbury, the guy you see talking football on ESPN; that’s his big brother) was the star player, but Brett’s best sport also turned out to be football. He was a quarterback at Oregon before transferring and finishing his career at a small school, Wayne State in Nebraska.
On the 2001 Oceanside American team that played in the World Series, 11 of 13 players have started their high school baseball careers at North County schools, a high batting average that is a tribute to the guidance they received from their coaches and parents. But it’s still too early to say any will cash in professionally.
One of the most dominant World Series stars ever was Sean Burroughs, the son of a Major Leaguer, who led his Long Beach team to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992-93. Yes, he’s made it to the Major Leagues with the Padres, but he was recently sent back down to the minor leagues to regain his swing. See, it won’t be easy.
But if you love baseball and want to realize more dreams, learning nuances will keep the game fresh in your heart and mind. If you rely just on your physical prowess, you’ll burn out. You’ll become frustrated when players you used to dominate later match up with you or beat you.
And then the game you love will become bittersweet. There was a time in Burroughs’ rise through the minor leagues when he wouldn’t talk about his Little League experience in interviews.
Maybe you’ve read somewhere by now or recognized on your own that many Major League baseball managers weren’t a star in the big leagues. For example, the Padres’ manager, Bruce Bochy, was a backup catcher. He loved the game for how it’s played, not because he was physically gifted.
You should also be grateful to grow up in a community that so strongly supports youth baseball. You’re the eighth San Diego team to advance to the World Series, but the last six have been from suburban San Diego. The most recent San Diego team to advance was in 1955, when San Diego was more town than city.
Hopefully, Major League Baseball will someday recognize it needs to do much more to nurture our national pastime in urban communities so more kids can enjoy the game that has provided you with so much joy at an early age.
If you love baseball, play for fun but also keep working at the game. The more you learn, the more you’ll love it. And the more you’ll appreciate your magical summer of 2005.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (