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Irvine Freshman Adjusting to Life Out of Limelight : Prep baseball: Aron Garcia, a national hero with the Northwood Little League team in '87, wants people to forget his past in favor of future.

April 15, 1990|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — How odd it must be. To be 15 years old and to have a past.

Aron Garcia has lived a thousand and one childhood dreams, not all of them pleasant, while still a child.

What Little Leaguer doesn't dream of playing in front of thousands of cheering fans with millions more watching on television?

What young player, budding superstar and bench-warmer alike, doesn't dream of pitching a no-hitter, striking out 11 and hitting a home run on a stage as grand as the Little League World Series?

Dreams of signing autographs for adoring fans, of interviews with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, now a broadcaster, and a lengthy feature article in Sports Illustrated dance through the minds of countless kids.

Garcia dreamed it and lived it. All of it, and more, happened to Garcia well before he entered Irvine High School last fall.

Since the summer of '87, Garcia's memories of victory and defeat have faded. The searing spotlight that found Garcia and his Irvine Northwood Little League teammates for five days in Williamsport, Pa., the home of the World Series, has moved elsewhere.

That is good in most regards, Garcia said.

And yet that time remains the zenith of his baseball career. Not even Garcia can know if it will always be so. Now, Garcia, a freshman starting at shortstop on the Irvine varsity, finds the bleachers only half-filled and the attention to his play minimal.

It has made for a comfortable environment for Garcia to learn the game of baseball. And there still is much to be learned.

Garcia is making the transition from starting pitcher to shortstop and short-relief pitcher. He also is trying to cope with an age difference that stretches to four years in some cases.

There is another difficult challenge: to make people forget his past in favor of a future that has yet to be played out and chronicled.

It won't be easy. Garcia knows this but continues toward new goals and accomplishments.

Garcia's thoughts on Irvine's 21-1 loss to Taiwan in the Little League World Series championship game are revealing.

"Everybody is going to fail once in their life," said Garcia, who gave up 21 runs on 13 hits with six walks and one strikeout in 2 2/3 torturous innings.

"I'm glad that was the one time. If we had won, my cap probably wouldn't fit on my head now."

He has the game on videotape gathering dust somewhere in his home in the Northwood section of Irvine. He can't bring himself to watch it.

"I don't dwell on the past any more," Garcia said.

He signed autographs, "Smoke 22" because that's what he threw, smoke, and that was his uniform number, 22.

He acted, talked ("I'm just happy to be here," he told reporters) and played like a future major leaguer.

Yet, there was an endearing quality about the way Garcia, and the Irvine team, played air guitar to the Ritchie Valens standard, "La Bamba."

The players trashed their Williamsport living quarters as vigorously as they had laid waste to their opposition coming into the World Series.

Irvine, with Garcia thrust into a leading role by his outstanding play, continued to win impressively.

In the opening round, Irvine defeated Dover, N.H., 13-0. Garcia pitched a no-hitter, struck out 11 and belted a two-run homer.

An 8-1 victory over Chesterfield, Ind., gave Irvine the U.S. championship and a berth in the world championship game. Garcia hit a three-run homer as Irvine became the first team from Orange County to advance to the final.

"We've got the best team in the world and we're gonna prove it on Saturday," said Bob Garcia, Irvine's manager and Aron's father, after the victory over Chesterfield.

Palmer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner with the Baltimore Orioles, told TV viewers Garcia was the key to the United States' chances and that his right arm reminded him of his own.

Taiwan, with its 41-2 World Series record and 12 titles in the past 17 years, waited in the wings.

Everybody loves an underdog. At Williamsport, no matter the year, the crowds root, root, root for the home team--the U.S.A. In 1987, nearly everyone was pulling for Garcia and Irvine against Taiwan.

This was a long way from the back yard of his parents' home, where as a spunky 3-year-old, Garcia chased down errant throws as his brother and father played catch.

An overflow crowd of 35,000 filled the stands at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. They staked out prime locations on a grassy hill beyond the outfield fence.

Peter Ueberroth, then the commissioner of baseball, addressed the crowd and another former Cy Young winner, Tom Seaver, threw out the first pitch.

ABC was there to broadcast the game to the nation.

"La Bamba" blared on the stadium loudspeakers as the crowd settled into their seats to watch these engaging Californians, led by their overpowering pitcher.

What they saw was a study in frustration.

Taiwan battered Garcia in relentless fashion. It was 21-0 when, mercifully, Bob Garcia came to his son's rescue in the third inning. He replaced Aron with an 11-year-old second baseman named Ryan O'Toole, who held Taiwan scoreless the rest of the way.

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