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MIKE DOWNEY

There Was Only One Place to Be

August 28, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

I never miss a World Series. I wasn't about to miss this World Series. It didn't matter if it was a Little League World Series. It was a World Series, so I wanted to watch.

But where? I wanted to watch the World Series with others, the way I usually do. Not home alone in front of my TV. I wanted crowds around me, cheering and munching junk food and giving five. I wanted to be like Randle P. McMurphy in the cuckoo's nest, screaming up at the screen.

I needed a place to watch the game--some place in Northridge. After all, this was Northridge's own World Series. I decided to watch it there, because Northridge had America's team. Saturday afternoon, Northridge was the place to be.

But where? In a restaurant? In a gas station? I didn't know anybody in Northridge. ABC-TV had agreed to air the game live, but where could I watch it?

In a bar? No, not in a bar. You don't watch a Little League game in a bar. Although as I drove my car through Northridge, looking for a spot to stop, I did pass a cocktail lounge called the Classroom, at 8333 Tampa. Good name for a place to watch Little League baseball, I thought.

Nahhh. I drove on.

Up ahead was the gigantic Northridge Fashion Center shopping mall. Hey, I hadn't been there for years. Good idea. I'll mosey over to Sears or one of the big stores, find a bank of big-screen TVs, maybe watch the Northridge team battle Venezuela on 50 screens at once!

Except when I got to the Fashion Center, it wasn't there. No signs of human life. You know, like Nevada. There were nothing but skeletal remains, empty buildings and girders. It looked like an erector set.

Here it was, a perfect summer Saturday afternoon, and the whole mall was a mess. Man, that crazy earthquake.

I turned right at Devonshire and headed directly for the Northridge City Little League headquarters. Maybe everybody in town would be there, having a picnic, watching the game on itty-bitty Watchmans. I wondered what Little Leaguers looked like on little TVs. Then I remembered, most of Northridge's guys are larger than Brett Butler.

Found the ballfields. Nope, nobody home. All I could see was a marquee, announcing that the "Fall Ball" sign-up for Northridge Little League would be coming up soon. Oh, and by the way: "Managers Needed." On the fence hung a banner wishing good luck to the Northridge All-Stars at the World Series, plus another one listing every player's name.

I drove away. Still needed a place to watch the biggest game of the season.

Where to go, where to go.

I turned right and pulled up by the Northridge Chamber of Commerce office, 8801 Reseda. Maybe the entire C of C would be having a wild party inside their office, with funny hats on and champagne in a bucket.

CLOSED, the sign read. OPEN 9 A.M. TUESDAY.

Hmmm, I thought. They must have given everybody Monday off for the big parade. See, the city council authorized a parade to begin Monday at 4 p.m. at Northridge Park, on the corner of Reseda and Mayall. Win or lose Saturday, the team deserved a big welcome home.

Nice idea.

But what about the game? It was nearly 12:30. The opening pitch at Williamsport, Pa., was only minutes away. I was running out of ideas. Where would fans congregate to watch a big Little League baseball game? Where would grown-ups and kids go to eat, drink and boo Venezuela? Where could a guy like me fit right in?

As I pulled into the parking lot of Chuck E. Cheese, I was surprised by a couple of things. The first was that they had valet parking. Oh, I love California so much.

The second surprise was that when I walked through the door, none of the TVs in the corners of the room were turned on. Inside the restaurant were approximately seven-eighths of all Northridge children between ages 3 and 6, riding make-believe rocket ships and having pizza wiped off their faces. Not one of them was watching baseball.

Oh, well. Too young anyway, I figured. These kids weren't interested in Northridge vs. Maracaibo. These kids were interested in Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd.

I gave up. I drove home.

OK, I said to myself, baseball is baseball. You don't need crowds. You can watch baseball anywhere. Well, you can watch it anywhere except when it's on strike. You don't even need a hot dog and a cold drink. You can watch baseball with a cold dog and a hot drink.

My TV came on. It warmed up. I warmed up. It was raining in Pennsylvania. With lightning. And thunder. Didn't matter. Neither rain nor quake could keep Northridge's young males from their appointed crown.

So they lost, so what.

Best ballclub I saw all year.

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