Memorial Park in Santa Monica, CA – site of my little league team’s epic upset
A year ago, I wrote on my personal blog, “The Hartland Chronicles” (click on the link to check it out), a true story about when I was going on 12, my Santa Monica, CA Little League baseball team beat the undefeated and perceived-to-be unbeatable defending champions on an overcast May afternoon.
Being that the biggest event in youth sports, the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, PA. opens today, featuring a SoCal team from Bonita, CA, located just east of San Diego, I though it would be fitting to repost my tale of how a mediocre group of 9-to-12 year old boys defeated a ballclub thought by everyone to be invincible.
Here it is:
Santa Monica, California.
Sometime during the middle of May, 1979; I wish I could tell you the exact date, but unfortunately that’s where my memory fails me.
I was a tall, awkward, one month short of twelve years old sixth grader – spending that year being bullied by several kids, one in particular making my life a Hades – who was a member of the Sunset Little League Major Division Dodgers that late spring.
However, to be brutally honest I was not having as much fun on that team as I had expected.
That was due to the fact that as someone who was participating in organized sports for the first time, having never played baseball before, I was the Bad News Bears-ish kid who played right field in the later innings, letting ground balls go through my legs and striking out more than the other guys.
I certainly would have never left the bench if not for the rule that every little leaguer must play at least two innings in the field and bat once, as it was crystal clear that I didn’t know what I was doing.
I’m sure that quite a few folks were either remarking that I was in over my head or, in the case of the players, considered me to be just plain sorry.
I’m also convinced that the only reason why I was in the major division at all was because I had cracked the six-foot barrier in height and there wasn’t a uniform in the minor (lower) division that would fit me.
My blue-and-white clad squad was likewise not doing so hot, having only won three games to that point in the season as we were scheduled to face a team, the Cubs, that were not only defending city champions,
But had pretty much owned us Dodgers in the four games they had previously played against us.
It was a typically cool, overcast late afternoon in that on the edge of Los Angeles seaside suburb as we gathered on a grassy knoll across the street from the field to prepare for those invincible Cubs.
During the pre-game instructions, the manager greatly surprised me by saying, “Derek, whether Joe (our regular catcher) shows up or not you’re starting catching.”
I had spent time learning that position throughout the year, but as catcher is a position key to any baseball team’s success, and as I was a stone beginner, looking back I am positive that the coaches didn’t want to risk putting me behind the plate during any meaningful contests.
I’m also positive that the coaches started me at catcher that day because as far as championship of playoff contention, we Dodgers were not going anywhere.
We had nothing to lose, so why not stick me behind the plate?
Especially since I had played there the previous game against the Giants as a substitute and actually did OK with the big mitt, although I stunk with the bat, striking out twice.
So the game starts, and the first few innings are rather uneventful.
Like the last game, I’m finding myself doing all right with the glove as I’m not letting as many pitches go past me to the backstop as I had been.
My hitting is likewise better as I collected two hits, one a little dribbler in front of the plate that I beat out and the other a blooper that landed in front of the center fielder. They weren’t screaming line drives, but as the great broadcaster Vin Scully once said about getting base hits…
The skyline of Santa Monica, CA from the town’s iconic beach, where I grew up, played Little League, and was involved in that “Miracle on 16th Street”
“it ain’t fishing. You don’t throw the little ones back.”
I also remember scoring a run, standing on second base beforehand and seeing the Cubs’ pitcher grab his calf in pain on the mound before being pulled.
The next thing we all knew, it was the sixth and final inning.
And in what would be called a genuine miracle, we Dodgers were up on the mightily superpowered Cubs 7-3.
I spent that last inning on the bench after doing quite well; I specifically recall pointing to the scoreboard to show our coaches that it was indeed the last inning because when I stated, “Three more outs”, they replied that wasn’t the situation.
I wish I could tell you the exact details of all three of those final outs, but I only remember the last one as a smallish-sized player hit a grounder to our first baseman, who stepped on first for the easy put-out.
Absolute pandemonium broke out outside our third base dugout; I was particularly ecstatic, jumping up and down like someone who three gallons of ice poured down my back, spiking my glove like a football after scoring a touchdown, yelling my head off and generally acting silly.
As we shook hands with those Cubs, I recall seeing some of them with tears in their eyes, which was understandable as this marked one of the very few times that they had not scored more runs then their opponents.
I also recall our team sitting in the left field grass, the coaches playing it cool like it was just another win. As they were trying to figure out what to say, a teammate asked them, “Don’t we get something?”
That’s when they treated us to hot dogs and cokes at the snack bar.
We were lionized for a while after that huge upset, a couple of high school guys (I think that’s where they were from) yelling “Way to go, Dodgers!” and everyone patting me and every other Dodger on the back.
The last thing I remember about that day was walking home – on a cloud, obviously – and telling my mother what had happened.
Needless to say, she was thrilled.
That triumph not only propelled us to playing much better baseball as we won the next two games after that miracle on 16th Street; it catapulted me to a far better performance as I got two hits in each of those two contests, raising my batting average from less than .100 to over .400.
And threw out a few runners trying to steal second from behind the dish for good measure.
It led to my coaches telling me at the end of the year picnic that if the league had a Most Improved Player award, I would have won it in a runaway, no brainer fashion.
It’s interesting that three and a half decades after the fact, I remember all of this as clearly as I do.
I suppose it’s because it is one of those indelible childhood memories that stand out in one’s mind due to it having such an impact and being so memorable.
No, this wasn’t comparable to the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid a year later, not by any stretch of the imagination.
After all, we’re talking about a local little league baseball team from a suburb in the relatively affluent Westside of Los Angeles called the Santa Monica Sunset Dodgers, NOT the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But I double dog dare anyone to come up with an upset in youth sports that was bigger than what transpired on the corner of 16th Street and Olympic Boulevard that May afternoon.
As such, the only way I will ever forget this event is if I were afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease as the memory of that victory is prevalent and definitely among my favorites from my formative years.
No, these are NOT my Dodgers as this photo was taken roughly 35 years after that fateful day, but this is another shot of Memorial Park where it all happened in that year of Disco 1979