Northridge's little leaguers had faced adversity before, but on Monday they learned to deal with something more elusive than a curveball and more fleeting than a fastball--their own celebrity.
"I'm nervous," said Spencer Gordon, 12, the right fielder. "I have more confidence with baseball than TV."
Spencer and the rest of the Quake Kids team that gained fame and the national championship were waiting backstage in Burbank to go on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."
In the end, the little leaguers handled their talk show duties with the same bravado and humor that carried them from the tragedy of the Northridge earthquake, which left several without homes, to within a game of the world championship. And those same qualities allowed them to bounce back after they lost to a tough Venezuelan team in the final game.
Leno described their saga as "the most amazing story. . . . A lot of these kids don't have houses." (Actually only one is still out of his house.)
The host asked Spencer about the loss in the final game at Williamsport, Pa. The boy admitted it was "real disappointing. It was an off day for us."
Would they like to try to hit off him, Leno asked.
Leno lobbed a couple of Whiffle balls and the little leaguers bashed them into the audience. Then the host pleaded a sore arm and brought in a surprise reliever, Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, who didn't fare much better. One ball hit the lights above the stage.
After it was over, the team posed with Leno for a picture.
It seemed the celebrity thing was not so tough. You joke around, sign a few autographs. "It was fun," Spencer said.