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SPORTS WATCH : Batter Up

August 26, 1994

You probably thought that the baseball strike took place because of the threat of player salary caps and team owners griping over revenues. Wrong. The purpose (or at least the result) was to give a bunch of boys from Northridge more of the limelight than they ever could have imagined.

So on Wednesday, for example, the home run hitter who was featured in a photograph five inches wide and nine inches deep on the main sports page of this newspaper was not one of those high-priced pros who had been chasing Roger Maris' single-season record. It was a shot of some kid named Matthew Cassel, whose incentive clause on a contract, if he had one, might call for more pizza and a cola.

On Saturday, Cassel and the rest of the "Earthquake Kids," as they have been dubbed, will play in the biggest game of their lives. They will take on Venezuela in the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

This is baseball as it should be, and as the pros and owners should remember it: as a chance to forget about whatever ails or troubles you; a chance to immerse yourself in a game and just have fun.

One of the Northridge players, pitcher Peter Tuber, perhaps said it best, capturing a little of what seems to have been forgotten in strike talks and stalled negotiations. "I walked onto this field I had been dreaming about for so long," Tuber told Times reporter Steve Henson, "and it just smelled so good." Where else these days but Little League would you hear a player sound so excited about the smell of freshly cut grass?

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