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Top Of The World

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   Top Of The World
 
   Published on: September 3, 2009
 
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The party commenced with 6-foot-2, 205-pound first baseman Luke Ramirez chasing pitcher Kiko Garcia near the mound. Initially, Garcia tried to avoid the celebratory tackle.

“I didn't want to get hit by a six-foot kid running at full speed,” Garcia said. “That's kind of scary.”

Ramirez, though, would not be denied. He grabbed Garcia by the jersey and soon the reinforcements arrived. Gloves and hats were flung toward the dugout and the Chula Vista Park View players piled atop Garcia.

On a sun-kissed day in this small Pennsylvania town, in front of an estimated 32,400 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and millions more on TV, Park View defeated Taoyuan, Taiwan, 6-3 to win the 63rd Little League World Series.

“To think we're the best team in the world,” Garcia said. “Wow.”

Added shortstop Andy Rios: “Every little kid dreams of making it to Williamsport. To win it, oh man, this is a dream come true.”

Back in June, more than 6,500 Little Leagues from around the world formed 12- and 13-year-old All-Star teams. After compiling a 23-3 record and winning eight games when it faced elimination, Park View can call itself world champions.

The seventh- and eighth-graders became the second team from San Diego County to win the LLWS, joining the 1961 El Cajon/La Mesa Northern team that included future NFL star Brian Sipe.

As the players partied on the field yesterday, the 70 to 80 family members and friends who made their way to Pennsylvania pressed against a screen, yelling at their heroes.

“Can you believe that!” said Chula Vista Little League President Rod Roberto, whose son, Bradley, played right field for Park View.

Jessica Rios, Andy Rios' older sister, was in tears.

“Oh my God,” Jessica said. “This is unbelievable.”

That the parents were on one side of the fence and the players on the other proved symbolic. The Park View players have been away from home since Aug. 5 when the team left to play in the West Region tournament in San Bernardino.

They stayed in militarylike barracks in San Bernardino. The morning after winning the West Region, the boys boarded a plane for the trip to South Williamsport.

In San Bernardino, family members' contact with players was limited to 10 to 15 minutes after games. Families enjoyed a little more time with players in Pennsylvania, but they seldom visited the boys after games. Instead, the players took a van from the field to their nearby dorms.

“It's been hard,” said Kim Peterson, mother of backup catcher Jensen Peterson. “We miss them terribly. You're used to having your family home with you. And when you're not under the same roof when you go to bed, it feels incomplete. But we knew it was for a common cause.”

The postgame routine differed yesterday. The players walked from the stadium up a hill to their dorm, high-fiving fans and signing autographs along the way. Parents and players joined in a postgame party at a hotel.

As you might expect, the players didn't complain about being away from their parents. During a postgame press conference, Rios was asked if he missed his family.

“I better not say,” Rios said, joking. “They might be watching.”

The team's run to South Williamsport rallied the San Diego community. A San Diego Police Department dispatcher updated officers in the field during one game.

Roberto, the Park View president, said one man made a donation to the league, then said the team's run helped his marriage.

Roberto recalled the man saying, “I haven't watched any sports on TV with my wife in 10 years. But we watched your game on TV. It's brought our marriage back.”

Asked what he'd like to say to local fans for their support, Garcia said, “We brought (the title) back to Chula Vista for you guys. Hope you enjoyed it.”

Once home, the team will bask in celebrity treatment. The players will be honored at a parade, plus Chargers and Padres home games.

“I already feel like a celebrity,” said third baseman Seth Godfrey. “It's crazy.”

The bulk of the 12-player team has played together for 2½years, sometimes traveling to tournaments in the fall and winter. Spend that much time together and you form a bond.

“We got even closer since we've practically lived together,” Garcia said. “We're more like brothers.”

“Yeah, we're fighting, yelling at each other,” joked Rios.

“Fighting over the (video games),” Garcia said.

“Changing the channel on the TV,” replied Rios.

Rather than feel pressure during the run, the players soaked up the experience, never forgetting that they're kids. Ramirez walked up the steep embankment behind the stadium after yesterday's game and slid down feet first.

He proved to be better at hitting towering home runs, ruining his baby-blue hat in the mud.

“I had to do it once,” he said. “But it wasn't as much fun as I thought. I just demolished my hat.”

The team's double-play combination, Rios at shortstop and second baseman Bulla Graft, doubled as class clowns. In their rush to a Saturday postgame news conference, the players forgot that they left gum in their back pockets.

“Quench gum,” explained Rios.

Into the laundry went the pants. When the team's uniforms came out of the dryer, pitcher Isaiah Armenta and outfielder Markus Melin's jerseys were ruined. They wore new numbers yesterday.

The team's closeness enabled it to play well under pressure. Park View rallied from a 10-5 deficit against Warner Robins, Ga., and came back after spotting Taiwan a 3-0 lead.

“We knew we'd come back,” Rios said. “We've done it before.”

As for the team's 8-0 record when facing elimination games, Godfrey repeated a line his teammates muttered more than once during their run to becoming Little League World Series champions.

Shrugging his shoulders, Godfrey said, “We just didn't want to go home.”

 
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