FIRST SEASONS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TEAMS, Part One

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The Coliseum on April 15, 1958, the day of the Dodgers’ first game in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

FIRST OF A SERIES

Over the course of the rest of this year, I’m going to take a look at the first season of the teams that call the greater Los Angeles area home.

My plans are to look at these first seasons by seasons; the beginnings of SoCal’s major college and pro football teams – UCLA, USC, the Rams and the Chargers – will appear on this site sometime in September.

For now, however, we’ll take a look at the teams currently playing – L.A.’s baseball teams, the Dodgers and the Angels, as well as Major League Soccer’s Galaxy and the WNBA’s Sparks.

Which we will start with as I want to do this in reverse chronological order…

And now, on with our history lesson…

 

Lisa Leslie, SoCal basketball icon (Inglewood’s Morningside High, USC) and the Sparks’ first star. Photo courtesy of sportsretriever.com

 

LOS ANGELES SPARKS

First Season: 1997

Championships: Three – 2001, 2002, 2016

Record: 14-14, Second place in the West, Did not qualify for the playoffs

Coaches: Linda Sharp, was replaced by Julie Rousseau after going 4-7

First Game/First Home Game: Lost to the New York Liberty, 67-57, on June 21, 1997

First Win: Beat the Charlotte Sting, 74-54, on June 25, 1997

Team Leaders:

  • Lisa Leslie, 15.9 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game
  • Penny Toler, 5.1 assists per game

 

A shot of the first Galaxy team from 1996. Photo courtesy of kyledane.blogspot.com

 

LOS ANGELES GALAXY

First Season: 1996

Championships: Five – 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014 (most in Major league Soccer)

Record: 19-13, First place in the MLS West, Lost to D.C. United in the MLS Cup Championship Game, 3-2

Coach: Lothar Oslander

First Game/First Home Game/First Win: April 12,1996, at the Rose Bowl. Beat the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, 2-1

Team Leaders:

  • Eduardo Hurtado – 21 goals, 7 assists
  • Mauricio Cienfuegos – 11 assists
  • Jorge Campos (goalie) – 4 shutouts, 1.20 GAA

 

The Original Angels! Photo courtesy of twitter.com

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

First Season: 1961

Championships: One – 2002

Record: 70-91, Eighth place in the American League, 38.5 games behind the New York Yankees

Manager: Bill Rigney

First Game/First Win: Beat the Baltimore Orioles, 7-2, on April 11, 1961

First Home Game: Lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-2, at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field on April 27, 1961

Team Leaders:

  • Leon Wagner, LF – .280 average, 28 HR, 79 RBI
  • Ken Hunt, CF – .255 average, 25 HR, 84 RBI
  • Steve Bilko, 1B – .279 average, 20 HR, 59 RBI
  • Ken McBride, P: 12-15, 3.65 ERA, 180 strikeouts
  • Art Fowler, RP: 5-8, 3.64 ERA, 11 saves

 

 

Can anyone please tell me why the Angels don’t switch from those ugly caps that they’re wearing now to these lids?! Photo courtesy of sportsunlimitedinc.com

 

 

 

 

Straight Out Of Brooklyn – The Original L.A. Dodgers! Photo courtesy of brooklyndodgermemories.com

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

First Season: 1958

Championships: Five – 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988

Record: 71-83, Seventh place in the National League, 21 games behind the Milwaukee Braves

Manager: Walter Alston

First Game: Lost to San Francisco Giants, 8-0, on April 15, 1958

First Win: Beat the Giants, 13-1, on April 16, 1958

First Home Game: April 18, 1958, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Beat the Giants, 6-5

Team Leaders:

  • Duke Snider, CF – .312 average, 15 HR, 58 RBI
  • Carl Furillo, RF – .290 average, 18 HR, 83 RBI
  • John Roseboro, C – .271 average, 11 HR, 43 RBI
  • Johnny Podres, P: 13-15, 3.72 ERA, 143 strikeouts
  • Clem Labine, RP: 6-6, 4.15 ERA, 14 saves

 

A Few Brief Thoughts:

From looking at this, it’s clear that the Galaxy, by far, had the best inaugural season among this group.

The Sparks? Not so much, as their first coach, Linda Sharp, was fired after just eleven games; management must have felt that there were some pronounced problems to fire a coach not even halfway during a team’s first year.

The Angels? A typical first year franchise. They did well to not finish last, in a “There’s someone worse than us!” kind of way.

And as for the Dodgers, my goodness! Their “Boys of Summer” stars from their glory days in Brooklyn were starting to decline, particularly the pitchers as their best guy on the mound at Ebbets Field, Don Newcombe, was sown to be through as he went 0-6 with an earned run average over seven!

Combined with the hurlers who essentially put the L.A. Dodgers on the map, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, not being ready for prime time just yet as they were a combined 23-24 with an ERA over four,

And you had a Dodger team that desperately needed to rebuild, which – their World Series title in 1959 notwithstanding – they eventually did.

Coming In September:

The first season of L.A’s football kingdoms – both college and pro as we’ll take a look at USC’s and UCLA’s beginnings as well as the Rams and the Chargers.

 

 

Dodger Stadium under construction in 1960. Photo courtesy of kcet.org

 

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A Few Thoughts Regarding The MLB All-Star Game Voting Push

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Andrelton Simmons, one of the two SoCal MLB players who are being pushed in the All-Star Game’s Final Vote campaign. Photo courtesy of medium.com

 

IS ANYONE ELSE GETTING SICK OF ALL THIS HYPE BESIDES ME?

It’s been all over social media, not unlike a rash to be honest.

Posts exhorting us SoCal baseball fans to get Dodger infielder Max Muncy and Angel shortstop Andrelton Simmons into the upcoming MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. by way of the Final Vote, something thought up by Major League Baseball to give the fans a say as to who will take the final spot on the National and American League All-Star teams.

While baseball’s all-star game is by far the best of its type, far better than the other sports’ all-star contests like the NFL’s Pro Bowl and the NBA’s All-Star Weekend,

I’m honestly tired of all the Mid-Summer Classic hype for one specific reason…

This voting push online is of the pushy salesman quality.

And I absolutely cannot stand pushy salesmen.

That’s why although like pretty much every other baseball fan, I’ve voted for the NL’s and AL’s starting lineups since I was a kid and poked holes in those ballots at Dodger Stadium: I voted for the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and the Angels’ Superman – I mean Mike Trout – this year,

I didn’t bother with this year’s Final Vote.

Especially since I saw on a Twitter post that it doesn’t look good, at all, for SoCal’s candidates with the deadline roughly in an hour from this writing, Muncy currently third out of the National League’s five hopefuls while Simmons is fifth and last among the American League’s candidates.

Actually, To be brutally frank I’ve been weary of all-star games for a while.

They are essentially glorified exhibition contests that don’t count – the notion of home field advantage in the World Series going to the winning league in baseball’s case notwithstanding – and you know what?

While I fully acknowledge that playing in the oldest all-star game in sports (it began in 1933 in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, with none other than Babe Ruth hitting the first home run) is an honor with financial bonus clauses often attached to contracts for those who make that game,

If I were in “The Show” and selected to go to the All-Star Game, whether as a starter or a reserve, I would probably decline due to the desire to take those four days off and recharge for the “Dog Days” of late July and August, as well for the playoff push in September of my team was a contender.

A good number of players have done just that over the years, particularly during this century, to take some time off and rest their bodies as with a 162-game schedule over roughly 185 days, the Majors, while a very lucrative dream come true for every one of those 755 guys playing Major League Baseball for, at bare minimum, $545,000 a season,

Which is very decent money no matter how you slice it,

Is also an absolute grind with fatigue, aches, pains, and injuries being an occupational hazard.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I would honestly rather take that time to rest my muscles and bones and take that four-day vacation.

Or I would at least strongly consider doing so.

I’ve been finding myself preferring to watch the Futures Game, featuring the top minor leaguers, and the Celebrity Softball Game, where folks from the entertainment realm play ball with former stars, over the actually MLB All-Star Game.

As well as the annual Little League World Series in South Williamsport, PA (for baseball) and Portland, OR (for softball) every August.

That’s going to be my mindset this year and for the time being.

In the meantime, congrats for all those ball players who will be in Nationals Park in our nation’s capitol next week.

 

Max Muncy, the other one of SoCal’s two major league ball players who are being so hyped in this MLB All-Star Fame Final Vote thing. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

 

REST IN PEACE, TYLER HONEYCUTT: Bruin Nation Mourns

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1990-2018. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

A TRUE TRAGEDY IN THE UCLA COMMUNITY

When I found out that Tyler Honeycutt, a standout Bruin on the hard court from 2009-11, had apparently and allegedly committed suicide this past Friday after his encounter with the police at his Sherman Oaks home when his mother had called 911 to report him “behaving erratically”,

Like everyone else in Bruin Nation, of course I was shocked and saddened.

While it’s not my intention to make any assumptions regarding whatever troubles that Tyler was going through, to speculate what was going on in his head that compelled him to end a life that fell just nine days short of his 28th birthday,

I imagine that it was a bit more than, (or so I have read) having trouble adjusting to playing basketball in Russia, where he spent last season as he played only parts of two years – 24 games to be exact – in the NBA after declaring for the draft out of Westwood in 2011.

That Tyler was taken in the second round, which is not guaranteed as only the first round picks are the ones given the big money and job security in the League,

Meant a precarious life in hoops, as to have a career in the NBA as a second rounder you have to more or less play like a combination of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the summer leagues and what was then called the D-League – the minor leagues of basketball, now called the G-League.

Playing in three countries, Israel and Turkey in addition to Russia, over the past five seasons sounds like a precarious, unstable existence in basketball to me.

Which I’m sure is the case for, at bare minimum, 98% of all those guys playing their hoops overseas with aspirations of plying their wares at Staples Center rather than whatever arena or gym in Europe or Asia that is allowing them to do their balling.

I’m strictly guessing – knowing full well that I may be wrong –  that though he was supposed to resign with either a Russian or an Israeli team for next season, Tyler was seeing the end of the road for his career without seeing any of the riches and glory, and was having trouble coming to grips with that.

Tyler’s former high school coach had mentioned that he was concerned about his well-being, that he, according to a story on Yahoo.com, was “…going through some things,” and was planning on visiting him when his mother called announcing that he had a gun.

Regardless of what it was that led to Tyler’s demise,

It should obviously go without saying that Bruin Nation suffered a true tragedy on the evening of July 6th.

It should also obviously go without saying that – at the risk of sounding like a public service announcement – suicide (my guess as to what it was) is never the answer, that taking one’s own life is, in the words of an old high school friend of mine,

“A permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

In a revelation, I’ve had thoughts of hurting myself, voicing such more than once due to various issues that would take too long to describe here, but I very much thank God that I didn’t go through with those thoughts and am still here.

Wherever he is right now, speaking as a fellow member of UCLA’s Bruin Nation (for thirty years now!),

I certainly hope that Tyler rests in a peace that he was apparently frantically looking for.

 

Peace be with you, fellow Bruin; I’m praying for you. Photo courtesy of losangelesinspiration.com

 

 

OUR 2018 FREEWAY SERIES PREVIEW

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The Angels’ Andrelton Simmons #2 slides safely in to third base as the Dodgers’ Logan Forsythe #11 catches the ball during their Freeway Series preseason game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2018. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG) Photo courtesy of ocregister.com  

 

A TALE OF TAPE REGARDING SOCAL’S TWO MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAMS AS THEY PREPARE TO FACE EACH OTHER THESE NEXT TWO WEEKENDS

BY THE WAY: This will also serve as our official mid-season report

 

2018 FREEWAY SERIES:

  • July 6-8 at Angel Stadium
  • July 13-15 at Dodger Stadium

All-Time Record: Angels lead 63-51

Last Season: Dodgers and Angels split four games

 

LOS ANGELES ANGELS: 2018 BY THE NUMBERS (To Date)

Record: 44-43, fourth place in the American League West, 12 & a 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros

Top Players:

  • Mike Trout, CF: .310 average, 24 HR, 49 RBI
  • Andrelton Simmons, SS: .316 average, 6 HR, 39 RBI
  • Albert Pujols, 1B: .249 average, 12 HR, 46 RBI
  • Justin Upton, LF: .252 average, 17 HR, 45 RBI
  • Shohei Ohtani, P/DH: .287 average, 6 HR, 20 RBI / 4-1, 3.10 ERA
  • Tyler Skaggs, P: 6-5, 2.64 ERA, 100 strikeouts (on Disabled List)
  • Garret Richards, P: 5-4, 3.42 ERA
  • Blake Parker, RP: 10 saves, 3.05 ERA

Last Game: Angels beat the Seattle Mariners, 7-4, at Safeco Field in Seattle.

Brief Comments:

It’s the same old story with these Halos, as no less than fourteen of their players, including nine of their pitcher, are on the DL right now.

Particularly when it comes to their pitching, these Angel hurlers truly have glass elbows and shoulders as they started well, only to run into reality at the hands of the Astros, New York Yankees, and particularly the Boston Red Sox as they won all seven games over the Halos this season.

Even Shohei Ohtani, while he’s been doing perfectly fine in the Show so far, has shown to have a glass elbow. Thank goodness he’s been cleared to hit again!

Which is why, while I still see them winning around 80 games due to their lineup, until their pitchers can stay off the DL they’ll never go further than a Wild Card spot at best.

Which makes me feel bad for Mike Trout, who I call Superman for obvious reasons.

This best player in baseball deserves better than what he’s been getting in Anaheim as far as achieving postseason glory, and you know what?

If he does decide to leave the Angels when his free agency comes up – if not before – I wouldn’t blame him in the slightest because players like him want championships.

And the way things are going now, as long as Angel pitchers’ arms, elbows and shoulder are as glassy as they are, I honestly can’t see them doing that.

 

A very good shot of two SoCal baseball stars, Matt Kemp (left) and Mike Trout (right). Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: 2018 BY THE NUMBERS (To Date)

Record: 47-39, second place in the National League West, 1/2 game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks

Top Players:

  • Matt Kemp, LF: .318 average, 15 HR, 55 RBI
  • Max Muncy, 3B/2B: .280 average, 20 HR, 38 RBI
  • Yasiel Puig, RF: .262 average, 9 HR, 31 RBI
  • Chris Taylor, SS: .264 average, 10 HR, 37 RBI
  • Joc Pederson, CF: .261 average, 13 HR, 37 RBI
  • Clayton Kershaw, P: 2-4, 2.86 ERA
  • Ross Stripling, P: 6-2, 2.27 ERA
  • Kenley Jansen, RP: 23 saves, 2.21 ERA

Last Game: Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-4, at Dodger Stadium completing the three game sweep.

Brief Comments:

I think I owe these Dodgers an apology.

While I didn’t exactly write them off in April for their bad start, and while I didn’t quite push the panic button on them – though my finger was on that button,

I didn’t feel that they would pick themselves up enough to get the opportunity to win that fourth World Series game that so eluded them in a such a disastrous way eight months ago.

To say that the Dodgers have turned things around big time since June 1st would be an understatement, having just swept the PIrates, I’ve been telling folks that I want a crack at those D-Backs again – which will come at the end of August.

If I were forced to name one single factor for the Dodgers’ resurgence, it would come down to a guy who roughly 98% of the fans thought would be traded before the end of spring training because he was widely thought of as being past his prime.

Not only has Matt Kemp more or less carried that blue-clad ball club, he’s on track to become a starter in the upcoming MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. on July 17th (For the record: Yes, I voted for him!)

Personally, I was happy to see Kemp back, was rooting for him in March, and was ecstatic to see him take the job in left field and kick butt the way he has to this point!

If they can get guys like Hyun Jin Ryu healthy, there’s no telling how far they can go!

And adding Manny Machado, a superstar (not quite on the level of LeBron James, but still) toiling for the worst-record-in-baseball Baltimore Orioles, wouldn’t hurt…

 

My Official Prediction of This Upcoming Freeway Series Between these Dodgers and Angels:

The Angels’ pitching, as has been the case for the past several years, is too injury prone, suspect, and an Achilles heel.

Which is why I see the Dodgers taking four out of the six games between them overall, winning two of three both in Anaheim and Chavez Ravine.

 

The Los Angeles Angels’ Martin Maldonado tags out the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig at home during the third inning at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA on Thursday, June 29, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG) Photo courtesy of dailynews.com

 

 

WELCOME TO THE LAKERS & SOCAL, LEBRON JAMES!

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Looks pretty good in that gold uniform, doesn’t he? Image courtesy of clutchpoints.com

 

AND SOME FRIENDLY ADVICE FOR ALL THOSE ECSTATIC FANS IN LAKER NATION WHO ARE PLANNING TO ATTEND THE CHAMPIONSHIP PARADE IN DOWNTOWN L.A. NEXT JUNE

As Bill Plaschke stated in his column in today’s Los Angeles Times…

“The King is coming”.

Just in case you were living under a rock on Mars the past 24 hours, here are just some of the details of the seventh leading scorer in basketball history, whose four-year, $154 million deal instantly made the Lakers relevant again.

And which is easily the biggest signing for the Lakers – and all of the sports teams in Southern California for that matter – since Shaquille O’Neal joined the Lakers in 1996…

  • Seventh leading scorer in NBA history with 31,038 points
  • Three-time NBA champion; 2012, 2013, & 2016
  • Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player; 2009, 2010, 2012, & 2013
  • Fourteen-time NBA All Star
  • Fourteen-time All-NBA Selection
  • Six-time All-NBA Defensive Selection
  • Has played in the NBA Finals eight straight seasons
  • Two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner; Beijing 2008, London 2012
  • Career Points Per Game Average: 27.2 (4th on the all-time list)
  • Career Rebounds Per Game Average: 7.4

With all of these wonderful numbers that this true superstar has put up in his 15-year career, it’s incredibly hard to believe that he has led the league in scoring just once, averaging 30 points per game in 2007-08.

 

LeBron James with his now-teammate, Lonzo Ball. Photo courtesy of wsj.com

 

My Personal, One-And-A Half Cent Take:

To be honest, I wasn’t all that shocked upon seeing on ESPN’s bottom ticker that LeBron was coming to the Lakers while watching the Boston Red Sox get hammered by the New York Yankees on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball”.

I knew that LeBron had a house in upscale Brentwood in L.A’s Westside, which he bought in 2015 and where he and his family would spend summers.

I also knew that not only did his family very much liked SoCal, folks were speculating about all of this for months as LeBron was on the short list of stars – the others being L.A. natives Paul George (who resigned with Oklahoma City) and Kawhi Leonard (who has made it crystal clear about wanting to come home and who the San Antonio Spurs are trying to accommodate) – who wanted to be Lakers.

And I knew that with LeBron being tight with Magic Johnson, plus knowing how determined Magic can get in getting things done as he had stated that he would step down as the Lakers’ president if he failed to sign some big names, that the “Lake Show” would definitely be seeing some new faces at Staples Center this November.

To state the excruciatingly painful obvious, with two other solid players, Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee, also agreeing to become Lakers yesterday,

And another veteran, Rajon Rondo, joining the Lakers today,

Combined with the talented young nucleus that that teams has with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma…

Along with the star power, LeBron will automatically provide the best veteran presence of all time in maturing those players.

Which in my view is the most important asset that he brings to the table; only an utter fool wouldn’t be heavily influenced by three championship rings as all LeBron has to tell Ball and company is,

“Do it like this, and you’ll get one of these (championship rings).”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb1Oxj8qRkY

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith commenting on LeBron James becoming a Laker. Courtesy of YouTube (click on the link)

 

HOWEVER, FOR ALL THOSE LAKER FANS (who need to be commended for their unwavering loyalty during these past five years of pronounced pathetic futility) WHO ARE SCREAMING ABOUT HOW THERE’S GOING TO BE A PURPLE AND GOLD-COLORED PARADE DOWN FIGUEROA ST. DURING MID JUNE NEXT SEASON,

I’ve got thirteen words for you…

Don’t waste your time. It’s not gonna happen.

At least this coming season.

While those Lakers are now instant contenders in the Western Conference thanks to this recent event, along with the other veterans signing with them,

And while I now officially see them making the postseason for the first time since 2013,

There are two reasons in particular why Laker Nation should leave any dreams about their team winning their 17th NBA title in 2019 at the door…

  • The Houston Rockets, who just resigned Chris Paul, and,
  • The Golden State Warriors – 2018 NBA Champions, winners of three of the last four Larry O’Brien trophies as NBA title winners, and with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (who just resigned with them) are showing no signs of a let down.

For the Lakers to return to the glory of the “Showtime” era in the 1980s and the Shaq-Kobe era of the 2000s, they have to get past those two clubs.

And it won’t be an easy romp as those young guys continue to learn how to win.

But at least they now have the best of mentors to show them the way!

And if Magic can get a deal done with San Antonio and bring Kawhi Leonard home – who knows?

 

Everyone in SoCal is expecting LeBron to add to these banners! Image courtesy of the ringer.com

AN AFTERNOON WITH SOME LITTLE LEAGUERS

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West L.A’s Little League All-Star team after winning their district tournament in 2016. Photo courtesy of wlall.org

 

CHECKING OUT A LITTLE LEAGUE ALL-STAR TOURNAMENT GAME IN WEST LOS ANGELES

A significant part of my involvement in baseball and softball was spent in little league.

Not only was I a player for the Santa Monica Sunset Little League Major Division Dodgers – though for only one year, in 1979 – I spent approximately twenty years as a player, coach, manager, and umpire (which I absolutely and passionately hated) in Santa Monica and Culver City’s Little Leagues, for all intents and purposes retiring after my minor division team in Culver City, the Pirates, made the Tournament of Champions in 2002.

It is very difficult for more or less anyone who is heavily involved in any endeavor, whether it’s sports, music, dance, or anything else involving an audience, to just watch such endeavor as a mere fan for pure enjoyment, because such involvement causes one to have an analytical and critical eye in what they’re seeing.

I am definitely no exception when it comes to baseball and softball, as even when I’m watching the Dodgers or any major league game on TV I tend to think, “He should have thrown a fastball there,” or “she needs to lay off that rise ball,” which is what I felt about Culver City High School’s softball players during their semi-final playoff game last month as they were chasing the Chaminade pitcher’s out-of-the-strike zone pitches throughout that contest.

When it comes to watching a little league game, those analytical and critical thoughts also apply to the coaches, as I always tend to think what I would do in situations; more on that in a bit.

As such…

Since it had been a couple of years since I wrote about any youth sports on this blog, I thought it was high time to remedy that and check out what is the highlight of the little league season in L.A’s Westside – the District 25 11-12 year old all-star tournament.

Which serves as stop number one to the ultimate event in youth sports: The Little League World Series in South Williamsport, PA.

Not that I ever expected any little league all-star team from the Westside to even make it to the Regionals in San Bernardino – the last stop before South Williamsport – let alone South Williamsport, even though SoCal teams from Northridge, Long Beach, and Huntington Beach have achieved that Holy Grail over the last 25 years.

I know full well that for every team of baseball and softball-playing youngsters showing their skills on ESPN in August, there’s at least ten teams that could easily be there save for a call or two not going their way.

 

Another West LA All-Star team from three years ago. Photo courtesy of wlall.org

 

Anyhow…

I found myself at West Los Angeles Little League – where I coached my very last Little League game in the Tournament of Champions in ’02 – earlier this week to check out an all-star tournament game between the hosts and Culver City’s group of all-stars.

As I check out the field, which looked pristine, on a professional level, really, a prevailing thought was this:

Since the chances of going to San Bernardino – never mind South Williamsport – are MUCH less that SLIM and NONE, this tournament is the big “Moment In The Sun” for these kids, on a PRONOUNCED level.

I really hope the coaches told them to enjoy the moment, enjoy being an all-star and playing in a tournament like this; that’s what I would be telling them.

Outside of the fact that West L.A. beat Culver City in a convincing fashion, mercying them (the mercy rule is ten runs after four innings) 10-0 as they scored four runs in the 5th inning to put the Culver All-Stars out of their misery, the two factors being that Culver’s pitcher, a big kid with MUCH potential who threw hard but due to his inconsistencies with his mechanics was all over the place, which is a common issue with kids that tall as he was at least 5’10” if not six feet,

And the way that Culver’s hitters were completely shut down by the breaking pitches from West L.A’s guy – I remember thinking and mentioning to various folks that they so needed to move up in the batter’s box to get to the pitch before it broke, which they didn’t do,

(Yes, like all of the other baseball and softball games that I watch, I was watching this game with a coach’s eyes; I can’t help it, and due to the roughly forty years – and counting – that I have been involved in those pastimes in some form it will most likely always be that way)

A thought that I had towards the end of the game was that this all-star tournament, and little league in general, is not the end of the road as being 13 year-olds at the most, they have much playing and developing to do as in my opinion, if those same two teams met two or three years from now as high school kids, I really feel that Culver would win.

Particularly if that big kid that started in the mound for Culver City worked with a pitching coach to develop his mechanics and a consistent release point.

Oh, one other thing about being at this game which goes into my “I have a longtime background in Little League” category…

I knew three of the four umpires that were calling the game; one of them was the coach of the team that my Dodgers scored the biggest upset in youth sports history against way back in ’79. I had a good time saying hello to him and the other two “Blues”.

Summing up, I had a perfectly fine time being at the place where I ended my involvement in Little League Baseball sixteen years before.

 

No, this is not the Culver City team that I saw, but you get the gist. Photo courtesy of patch.com

 

 

MUSINGS ABOUT THE WORLD CUP

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El Tri, Mexico’s national team, in the midst of arguably the World Cup’s biggest upset in decades, their 1-0 triumph over defending champion Germany. Photo courtesy of sports.abs-cbn.com

 

JUST SOME THOUGHTS REGARDING THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SPORTING EVENT AND THE CONNECTION THAT MEXICO’S TEAM HAS WITH SOCAL

When the United States, in a pathetically epic fashion, failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia (going on right now) in losing to a Trinidad & Tobago team that, in all honesty, they should have been able to name the score against,

While I didn’t lose interest in this year’s version of the biggest sports event on this planet, I felt that the U.S. National Team not being in Russia set this country even further out of the loop as far as world culture is concerned.

I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to that once every four years tournament seeking the best team in the world’s most popular sport;

That is, until a week ago when I saw that El Tri – Mexico’s national team that has a very big presence in SoCal due to obvious reasons, regularly drawing roughly 90,000 fans to games at the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum, where 90% of the fans fervently rooting for them, even against the U.S. team – scoring a significant upset in beating defending champion Germany 1-0 in their World Cup opener on June 17th, setting off a wild celebration wherever Mexican fans congregated.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKs8Ss8dCs4

Fox 11 Los Angeles’ report on fans in Huntington Park and other places in L.A.wildly celebrating Mexico’s big win over Germany. Courtesy of YouTube (click on the link).

 

Which was particularly the case in East L.A., long a SoCal hub for the Mexican-American community, as fans walked down Whittier Blvd waving their flags of red and green with the eagle holding a snake in its beak in the middle in ecstatic triumph, as well as other places in the Los Angeles area like Huntington Park and Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley.

It reminded me of how the African-American community happily celebrated whenever boxing legend Joe Louis won a fight in the 1930s and 40s, especially when he won the heavyweight crown in 1937.

It didn’t take long for me, or any other sports person, probably, to figure out that with the U.S. soccer team in such bad shape as to not be one of the 32 teams currently in Russia, Mexico, the next nearest country, would be the adoptive team to root for in this World Cup for many if not most American soccer fans.

Personally, one word describes my feelings about what is called football in every country except this one and Canada…

Fascinating.

 

Hirving Lozano (#22), after becoming Mexico’s newest national hero in scoring the goal that knocked off the defending World Cup champs on June 17th. Photo courtesy of chinaplus.cri.cn

 

Every time I catch a few minutes of a soccer game, whether it’s the Galaxy or the brand new LAFC, our two local teams, or especially an English Premier League game, the atmosphere that the fan bases provide at those matches – particularly in the United Kingdom (check out how 50,000 fans sing their team’s song at the top of their lungs during their games over there) – really hold my interest.

For the life of me, it’s hard to conceive fans who are so passionate and obsessive of teams like Liverpool, Manchester United, their rivals Manchester City (who I gravitate toward due to their colors being the same as UCLA’s), and Chelsea that groups of them, commonly known as hooligans, often brawl with the opposing team’s fans and force the police to completely separate the fan bases at places like Old Trafford in Manchester, Anfield in Liverpool, and Wembley Stadium in London.

I really can’t imagine that sort of thing going on in an AYSO game in the park.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BSeFs40QOI

HOW EL TRI DID IT: Highlights of Mexico’s 1-0 triumph over defending World Cup champion Germany on June 17th. Courtesy of YouTube (click on the link).

 

As such…

It would be great to see Mexico in the World Cup Final; they are in first place in their group, beating South Korea as well as Germany, with only a game against Sweden coming up this Wednesday before the knockout Round of 16 begins.

Heck, the more wins El Tri gets, the more fervent the fans, particularly in SoCal, will be.

And I can only imagine the celebrations that would commence if Mexico wins the title; the reaction among the fans would be akin to the Lakers or the Dodgers winning a championship, with the streets in East L.A. and other places being taken over.

As El Tri’s match against Sweden starts at 7:00 a.m on Wednesday, well…

While I can’t guarantee that I’ll be watching the entire game from start to finish, I’ll be sure to get updates, and maybe catch a few minutes of the affair.

Bottom Line: This World Cup, Mexico doing so well in it to date, and soccer in general to be honest,

Is nothing but fascinating to me.

So much so that seeing a game in England is on my bucket list.

And I plan to not only check out a LAFC match at Banc of California Stadium this summer, but write all about the experience on this blog.

 

Fervent fans of Mexico’s El Tri celebrating after their team’s triumph over Germany in L.A. Photo courtesy of latimes.com

 

 

FORTY YEARS TO THE DAY: Memories of My Very First Time At Dodger Stadium

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The home of the team that I’ve followed for roughly 80% of my life, with downtown Los Angeles’ skyline looming in the background. Photo courtesy of andymarquardt7.wordpress.com

 

COMMEMORATING THE ANNIVERSARY OF A VERY IMPORTANT EVENT IN A BASEBALL FAN’S LIFE

Sunday, June 18, 1978.

My 11th birthday.

I had just finished the fifth grade.

A day that I was anticipating with excitement, considering my burgeoning obsession with baseball and one of my local teams, the Dodgers, due to their appearance in the World Series eight months before.

The reason for the excitement?

That eleventh birthday of mine was the day I went to Dodger Stadium and saw the team that my family, particularly my grandparents, who were loyal followers of since their Brooklyn days, for the first time ever.

For an impressionable African-American boy with the requisite disco-era afro who was approaching six feet in height, you can imagine the feelings going through me as I woke up that warm and sunny morning.

I made it a point to carefully dress in my baseball-style 3/4 sleeve shirt with the Dodger logo in the front, plus the mesh-backed adjustable replica Dodger cap with the interlocking “LA” on the front, as my mother and I left our tiny apartment in Santa Monica to go pick up the three cousins whose names I pulled out of a hat to go with me; she had gotten a total of six tickets on the field level down the right field line as we all piled up in her Opal Cadet to begin our journey to just north of downtown L.A. and what then-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda called “Blue Heaven On Earth”.

Contrary to what some of you may be thinking at this point, the traffic wasn’t too bad as we turned left from the 110 at the Dodger Stadium exit, drove a few more minutes, and there it was!

Any youngster seeing a sports palace like Dodger Stadium for the first time in person would be mighty impressed at its majesty, and I was no exception, though interestingly enough the size of the 56,000-seat ballpark wasn’t the only thing that I noticed.

 

Not the Dodger game I went to; this contest happened about three months later. Photo courtesy of commoms.wikimedia.org

 

The bright colors of the seats, which seemingly reached up halfway to heaven, ranging from bright red on the top deck to orange on the loge section (second deck) to the blue-hued reserve section in between, was what I noticed the most as one of my cousins exclaimed how he wanted to see Steve Garvey, who was the All-American go-to hero among the children of Los Angeles at that time.

After my mom’s friend, who I considered an aunt, joined us, Mom proceeded to hand us kids the tickets, giving us the required lecture about staying together and being on our best behavior, before we headed for the turnstiles.

It was Helmet Weekend, meaning that everyone ages 14 and under got a free replica Dodger batting helmet that was a popular thing to wear back then, and of course I was excited when I was handed that blue plastic head covering, putting it on over my cap right away, my unruly afro sticking out underneath.

We then proceeded to our seats, Mom promising us that we would stay all nine innings, and as the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) were the opponents, I couldn’t miss the large red and white maple leaf Canadian flag flying next to the red, white, and blue stars and stripes beyond the center field fence.

Our seats weren’t far from the Expos’ bullpen, and I remember one of my cousins asking either Expos pitcher Stan Bahnsen or one of their coaches for an autograph as they were walking by us to their dugout, one of them saying, “I’ve gotta go to work.”

Which we were all incredulous about, going, “What? Playing baseball is work?!”

Little did we know; the innocent naivete of youth coming into play at that moment.

I vividly recall “O Canada”, that country’s national anthem, being played and sung  before our “Star Spangled Banner” , with the Dodgers then taking the field and getting things started as the organ in the press box just below the reserved section played “Charge!”

Of course I enjoyed the famous Dodger (Hot) Dogs and the chocolate ice cream cups that I consumed over the course of the contest.

 

The co-hero of my inaugural Dodger experience, second baseman Davey Lopes (2nd from right), along with the other members of baseball’s longest-tenured infield: Third baseman Ron Cey (far left),  shortstop Bill Russell (2nd from left), and first baseman Steve Garvey (far right). Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

OK, here’s what I remember regarding how the game unfolded…

Over the four decades since that day, the four details about that contest that I’ve never forgotten were…

  • The Dodgers’ ace, Don Sutton, pitching a shutout,
  • Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes stealing four bases,
  • One of my cousins calling out Dodger right fielder Lee Lacy’s name, yelling “Lee! Lee!” between pitches mid-game and having him turn his head in our direction and (I’m sure) thinking, “Who the hell is calling my name?!”, and,
  • The Dodgers beating the Expos 5-0, putting the finishing touches on the most memorable birthday of my childhood

As for any more details, I took the liberty to download and print a copy of the game’s box score online recently.

What I found was some very informative stuff:

  • Don Sutton gave up six hits, walking one and striking out six in hurling a complete game gem; I was surprised to find that it only evened his win-loss record to 6-6 and lowered his earned run average to a pretty high 4.29; he had evidently gotten off to a bad start that season.
  • Along with his four stolen bases, Davey Lopes went 3-for-4, earning him Co-Player of the Game honors with Sutton in the middle of his best season, Lopes raising his batting average to .320 that day.
  • Yours truly, Mom, her friend, and my three cousins were among the 41,769 fans in attendance that day.
  • Sutton’s Expos opponent on the mound, Wayne Twitchell, pitched not unlike a Bad News Bear as he lasted but four innings, walking five Dodgers. He and the two other Expo hurlers also did a crappy job of holding base runners as Lopes ran wild, and…
  • (VERY significant) Having three future members of baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame playing on that Dodger Stadium diamond – Sutton, plus Expos Andre Dawson and Tony Perez.

 

I think I may have bought this yearbook during that first Dodger game. Image courtesy of amazon.com

 

TO STATE THE OBVIOUS…

That first Dodger game set the tone for a forty-year (and counting) involvement in baseball and softball in some form, as I joined Santa Monica’s Sunset Little League the following spring and, after five years as quite the mediocre player, eventually spending roughly two decades coaching boys and girls on the youth level as well as umpiring (which I absolutely hated), playing pick-up softball – which I continue to do to this day – and writing about those sports (and others),

Like I’m doing right now!

As for the Dodgers’ 56 year old home, I would go on to see nearly sixty games at that ball park over the next four decades, including on two other birthdays in 1997 (the day I turned 30) and 2000 along with this past June 10th, when I watched those Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 from the top deck,

In addition to (I believe) eight games featuring UCLA’s Bruins taking on USC’s Trojans in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, which the Dodgers host every March and has become a good part of the Crosstown Rivalry, me sitting in the field level near the dugout.

Which considering how much it costs to see games there nowadays is the only time I get to sit close to the action.

And I have been honored to be able to go onto Dodger Stadium’s field on three occasions, the first time after watching the Dodgers play the Angels the day before my 40th birthday in 2007, when the fans were allowed to play catch with small rubber balls in the outfield.

The other two times were quite exciting, as I performed pre-game shows with the UCLA Alumni Band behind home plate in 2011 and 2012 for the Dodgers’ UCLA Day promotion.

To say that was a pronounced thrill would be an understatement!

It has gotten to the point where I could give tours of that place, thinking the last time I was there, “Sometimes I think I know Dodger Stadium too well,” me having the distinction of having sat in every section of that ball park at least once.

 

THE BEST WAY TO SUM THIS ALL UP?

I feel that I made a friend for life that mid-June Sunday in 1978.

At least, those are my feelings every time I go up the second hill on Vin Scully Avenue (formerly known as Elysian Park Avenue) and see the lights on top of Dodger Stadium in the short distance.

Since that memorable first trip to Chavez Ravine came to pass forty years ago today,

I think it’s more than fitting that I give proper props to that quintessential chapter of my childhood on this blog.

 

Dodger Stadium as it looked roughly ten years before my first visit there. Photo courtesy of insidesocal.com

 

MY MOST RECENT DAY WITH THE DODGERS: Attending Another Game at Dodger Stadium

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Matt Kemp (right) congratulating Max Muncy (#13) after his home run during the Dodger game I saw this past weekend. Photo courtesy of usatoday.com

 

SEEING THE DODGERS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THREE YEARS

Though I have been going to Dodger Stadium on a yearly basis for the annual clash between UCLA and USC in March since 2010,

The Dodger game I attended on Sunday was the first time I have seen that team in person since August of 2015, when I went to the game between those Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds and wrote about the experience at Chavez Ravine on this blog, the Dodgers winning 2-1 on a Zack Greinke home run (here’s the link to that article: http://www.socalsportsannals.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/another-day-at-dodger-stadium/

Besides the fact that it was Girl Scouts Day, with thousands of young girls in their green, brown, and blue vests famous for selling those delicious cookies (my favorites are those peanut butter and chocolate Tagalongs) parading on the track surrounding the field,

Everything that I noticed about Dodger Stadium that scorching August day was more or less the same this time around, as I watched the Dodgers use a solid outing on the mound by pitcher Ross Stripling and three home runs to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2;

  • The atmosphere was still more circus-like than pure baseball, which while I wasn’t a big fan of it I still understood it and tolerated it a little more as like all other sports venues, the emphasis is geared more toward the customer who may not necessarily be a real baseball fan but who is looking to be entertained.
  • The costs – not just the admission (I paid $25 plus a couple of fees for a total of $35 for my seat at the top deck, traditionally considered the “cheap” seats) – remain way too high, as the $4.00 pen that I bought in the Top Of The Park gift shop above the top deck was pretty much the least expensive thing available in the place; the BBQ chicken nachos I saw on the reserved level was nearly $20.00! To paraphrase a quote from the 1990s classic TV comedy In Living Color: “Homey don’t pay that!”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORCWEoA2Js

Full highlights – a condensed game, really – of the Dodgers’ 7-2 win which I had the pleasure of seeing. Courtesy of YouTube. (Click on the link)

 

The biggest thing that I got from my latest excursion to what former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda calls “Blue Heaven On Earth” was something that’s quite significant, considering that I have sat in every section of Dodger Stadium – the field, loge and reserved levels as well as the top deck and both outfield pavilions – at least once;

Sitting in the top deck, a few rows from the front between home plate and third base, I found myself thinking…

“I finally found my spot!”

I found myself really liking the bird’s-eye view of the hills behind the outfield as Dodger manager Dave Roberts’ team was doing its thing, as well as enjoying the game from that prospective.

Like everyone else who watches sporting events from way up high, I could see the entire field and enjoyed the nuances of the game from that vantage point, to the point where I thought,

“I’m gonna see the Dodgers from here from now on.”

 

A look at the section in Dodger Stadium’s top deck, where I sat this past Sunday. Photo courtesy of foursquare.com

 

Unlike the previous Dodger game I attended, the temperature was far short of the 93 degrees that I fried through, due to the fact that I vowed after that excursion that I would never go to Dodger Stadium past my birthday again (June 18th, which is coming up! More on that in a bit), because that ballpark is too hot during day games, which I prefer to go to.

Except for the fourth inning, when I bought a frozen lemonade, which I have always done and which I highly recommend as it cools you down on a warm day and is one of the healthiest things on the Dodgers’ concessions menu, I stayed in my seat and earnestly watched the game in what was a relatively mellow atmosphere among the fans.

The Dodger shuttle taking fans (and me) to Union Station after the game, where I proceeded to catch a Metro Bus back to the Westside elicited an internal “Thank You” from me, as I didn’t feel like walking back down Sunset Blvd.

All-in-all, this latest Dodger experience – it was the 51st time that I saw Los Angeles’ flagship MLB team, and the 26th time that I saw those blue-clad players in “The Show” win – can be summed up in a lyric from a well-known rap classic from Ice Cube:

“It was a good day”.

 

OH YEAH, ABOUT JUNE 18TH…

Exactly forty years ago this coming Monday, I spent my 11th birthday in a significant fashion: I went to Dodger Stadium for the very first time!

I’ll have complete details about day then, reminiscing on what was a big day in my childhood.

Looking forward to telling you all about it…

 

Ross Stripling, who in the face of 4/5 of the Dodger starters, including Clayton Kershaw, on the disabled list delivered a very good performance in the game i was at. Photo courtesy of greenwichtime.com

 

CAL STATE FULLERTON BASEBALL: Two Wins Away From Another College World Series

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The team that will be hosting Washington in the Super Regionals for a chance to go to Omaha. Photo courtesy of ocregister.com

 

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, FULLERTON TITANS

2018 Record: 35-23, 18-6 and first place in the Big West Conference

  • BIG WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS
  • Won the Stanford Regional in Palo Alto, beating Stanford TWICE, including a 5-2 regional-clinching victory on June 3rd
  • Started the season 1-7, losing their first four games, including three straight to Stanford at Stanford on February 16-18!

Other Accolades:

  • In their 54 years of existence, Cal State Fullerton baseball has NEVER had a losing season!
  • 44 straight seasons with at least 30 wins!
  • 27 consecutive appearances in the postseason
  • 29 conference championships, including 17 Big West titles
  • 18 appearances in the College World Series
  • Four national championships, won in 1979, 1984, 1995, and 2004

Coach: Rick Vanderhook, 7th season

Key Players:

  • Colton Eastman, P: 10-3, 2.20 ERA, 116 strikeouts (Taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 4th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft)
  • Andrew Quezada, P: 4-5, 3.90 ERA (Taken by the Colorado Rockies in the 7th round of the MLB Draft)
  • Tommy Wilson, P: 6-0, 2.83 ERA (Taken by the New York Mets in the 19th round of the MLB Draft)
  • Brett Conine, RP: 4-1, 3.96 ERA, 10 saves (Taken by the Houston Astros in the 11th round of the MLB Draft)
  • Daniel Cope, C – .280 average, 5 HR, 42 RBI
  • Hank LoForte, 2B – .338 average, 1 HR, 33 RBI
  • Ruben Cardenas, RF – .297 average, 4 HR, 37 RBI (Taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the MLB Draft)

2018 Super Regionals at Goodwin Field, Fullerton, CA

OPPONENT: Washington Huskies

  • Friday, June 8th, 11:00 a.m. TV: ESPN2
  • Saturday, June 9th, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU
  • Sunday, June 10th, 6:00 pm. TV: ESPNU (if necessary)

 

Goodwin Field, on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, where the Titans will be hosting their Super Regional vs Washington this weekend. Photo courtesy of fullertontitans.com

 

 

A Few Thoughts:

This is an incredible college sports program when one thinks about it – the most successful in the California State University system!

I’m quite sure that no other Cal State sports program has won more NCAA Division 1 championships than Cal State Fullerton’s baseball team; if there are any teams in that system that have won more nattys, I’d very much like to hear about them!

San Diego State’s and Fresno State’s football teams, while having a long and successful history with standout players such as Marshall Faulk for SDSU and David Carr for Fresno, programs that certainly get more attention, haven’t won any D1 titles.

But Fullerton’s Titans, a commuter school that dropped football in 1992, have been golden on the diamond.

Not bad for a program that has only been in existence since 1965!

The incredible thing about this season in particular has been the fact that those navy blue and orange-clad Titans, after appearing in their 18th College World Series in 2017, started 2018 by winning just one of their first eight games!

With the first three of those losses to – get this – Stanford, on the very same field in Palo Alto where nearly four months later CSUF would get their revenge in an epic fashion during the recent regional.

 

(ARGUABLY) THE BIGGEST HOME RUN IN CAL STATE FULLERTON HISTORY: Jace Chamberlin’s walk-off blast to give the Titans a 2-1 win on June 1st BTW: He looks a lot like Babe Ruth, doesn’t he? Photo courtesy of 93x.com

 

 

And to add the proverbial cherry-on-top, Stanford was not only the Pac-12 Conference champ, they were the overall number two seed in the NCAA Tournament!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a team in any sport getting bigger retribution than Fullerton did against that Cardinal!

You know the Titans were destined when a freshman who looked like a combination of an offensive lineman and Babe Ruth, a non-starter who had never hit a home run in college, comes off the bench to pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th inning of their first regional game with Stanford and – much like Robert Redford playing Roy Hobbs in the 1984 movie “The Natural” –  blasts a towering walk-off homer, putting CSUF in the regional-decider.

Now that CSUF is in their 14th Super Regional and aiming for their 19th trip to Omaha, NE, I see no reason whatsoever as to not have those Titans beating Washington and making their bid for a fifth national crown.

Clearly and without a doubt, I feel comfortable in stating this…

The Cal State Fullerton Titans baseball team is the best sports program that the Cal State University System has to offer.

And the best college baseball program in SoCal (though UCLA and especially USC, with their 12 national titles even though their last crown was in 1998, will dispute this).

It should go without saying that I see those Titans handling their business versus the Huskies and doing their thing at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha starting June 16th.

We’ll certainly see if they fulfill that prediction…

 

Cal State Fullerton in a wild celebration after Jace Chamberlin’s game-winning home run against Stanford on June 2nd Photo courtesy of ocregister.com