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Home Team Cheers Matt's Dad

Sports: McGwire's son's Little League pals watch in Huntington Beach as their friend and his father share TV spotlight.


It was pandemonium at the Strand household in Huntington Beach on Tuesday night--just as it was in Busch Stadium, half a continent away.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals' Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run, breaking the season record set by Roger Maris in 1961. In Huntington Beach, a living room full of Little League teammates of McGwire's 10-year-old son, Matthew, went wild when Matt's dad stepped into baseball history.

"Wow, that was bomb!" screamed Gene Strand, 11, who plays first base on the Huntington Valley Little League team where Matthew McGwire plays first base and pitches. By coincidence, the team roster also includes D.J. Drysdale, the son of legendary Dodger pitcher and Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.

"I can't believe it!" Strand yelled repeatedly, jumping up and down after Tuesday's record-shattering homer. "I can't believe it!"

Earlier in the day, at the Little League team's regular practice at the baseball diamond of a local middle school, the mood had been more subdued.

"I think it's exciting," the young Drysdale had said calmly. While the team had certainly discussed the impending Cardinal game, they hadn't been obsessed, Coach Byron Morgan said.

That changed an hour later as Gene Strand watched the big event in his living room with his brother, Evan, and Reece Engle, all teammates, and Ryan Holcomb, who says he hopes to be on the team soon.

"There's Matt!" the boys yelled in unison every time their friend, at the game with his dad and working as a batboy, showed up on their TV screen.

During the commercials, they speculated on how Matt's dad might be feeling and commented on the game.

"They're pitching around him," Engle observed during McGwire's first time at bat. "They're trying to psych him."

The youngsters kept up the chatter through the first three innings. And they talked back to the TV screen. During a prerecorded interview with the slugger, the announcer commented on McGwire's presumed "guilt" at being an absentee father who is divorced from Matthew's mother, with whom the boy lives in Huntington Beach.

Holcomb retorted: "The only thing he cares about is kids."

When the big moment came in the bottom of the fourth inning, the room exploded with cheers. The boys jumped to their feet, all screaming and dancing in front of the television. The Strand family dog, an Italian greyhound named Speedy, joined in, yapping merrily. Like the crowd in Busch Stadium, the Little Leaguers celebrated the moment with shrieks of triumph that lasted several minutes.

"What a great way to end the summer!" Gene Strand said.

As the celebration eased into a pizza party, the boys' attention drifted to less lofty concerns than world records. They took turns measuring the circumference of their heads to determine whether any equaled the measurement of McGwire's biceps, reported to be 24 inches. The closest contender was Engle, whose noggin was 22 1/2 inches around--the record for the biggest hat size.

"I'll never forget this day as long as I live!" the youngster proclaimed.

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