The members of Western High School's baseball team came to Dodger Stadium Saturday to realize their boyhood fantasies of playing in a real big-league ballpark.
David Tellers, the Pioneers' starting pitcher, called it a dream come true.
Imagine how dismayed Tellers and his teammates were to find that the infield at Dodger Stadium can play the same cruel tricks and produce the same funny bounces as the fields of Buena Park American Little League.
The Southern Section 3-A championship eluded the Pioneers. It bounced off their foreheads. It short-hopped off their gloves.
Rio Mesa left the field with a 5-3 victory and its second straight 3-A title. Western, whose uniforms bear a striking resemblance to the ballpark's usual inhabitants, left with a chronic case of the Dodger Stadium Blues.
All was well with Tellers' dream until the fifth inning. He had allowed one hit and was leading, 3-0. Then the ball began bouncing Rio Mesa's way, and it didn't stop until the Spartans tied it, 3-3.
Rick Pena led off the inning with an infield single. Todd Gamboa followed by hitting a ground ball to the left of Western third baseman David Jacob. The ball took a bad hop and bounced over Jacob and into left field.
A sacrifice bunt moved Pena and Gamboa into scoring position, and Mike Runge drove them in with a single to center. Tellers could have no complaints with Runge's hit. It was what followed that irked him.
After retiring Art Espinoza on a ground ball for the second out, Tellers watched as Phil White hit a grounder to Western first baseman Dan Price. The ball took a vicious bounce before caroming off Price's forehead and into foul territory, enabling Runge to score from second and tie, 3-3.
"It took a bad hop and went off my head," Price said. "You can't really expect that at Dodger Stadium. It just happened."
There was nothing illegitimate about the way Rio Mesa got the go-ahead run in the seventh. Darren Romano led off with a booming triple to the gap in right-center, and Runge followed with an RBI double to left.
But it was the fifth inning that left a nasty imprint on Price's forehead and the minds of his teammates.
Said Western shortstop Paul Boucher: "The one bad hop that hit off Danny's head killed us. That game was ours. We had it in our pocket and we let it out. Sometimes that happens."
Said catcher Scott Pawloski: "Everything was going our way, then all of the sudden. . . . Those balls weren't hit very hard, but what can you do?"
As if all of this wasn't enough disenchantment for one night, the Pioneers were faced with the realization that they lost to a team that didn't exactly conduct a clinic in fundamental baseball. The Spartans made two throwing errors on the same play to help Western take a 1-0 lead in the first inning. They made mistakes on the basepaths and threw to the wrong bases. As Rio Mesa Coach Pat Machado acknowledged, they were fortunate to win.
"With the mistakes we made, we shouldn't have," Machado said.
Said Price: "They played good, but I don't think they deserved to win. Not with those hits."
With that, Price and his teammates began packing their bags. The field that they had pointed to all season suddenly wasn't such a great place to be.