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Wins Begin at Home Base

Families rally around Conejo's World Series-bound Little League champs

August 14, 2004|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

If interest in baseball is waning among American youth, no one's told the 12 boys on the Conejo Valley All-Star Little League team.

Tireless practitioners of the summer game, these 11- and 12-year-olds from suburban Thousand Oaks will head for Williamsport, Pa., next week to represent the West in the 58th Little League World Series.

They defeated the team from Henderson, Nev., 8-5 on Thursday to take home the Western regional championship. Their win marks the second time Conejo Valley has advanced to the World Series; the first was in 1994.

A banner hanging in the backyard of Coach Tom Ginther's home in Thousand Oaks on Friday proclaimed the victory. So did a 4-foot trophy on the patio table.

"They enjoy the game of baseball," Ginther, 47, said as he accepted a steady stream of congratulatory phone calls. "That's what makes them so good and keeps them going."

Although Friday was the team's day off, following the grueling 10-day regional tournament in San Bernardino, four boys from the All-Star team sat down in Ginther's family room to watch a video of Thursday's winning performance. For some, it was their second or third time watching a game they will probably remember the rest of their lives.

"We just practice a lot," said Tim Ginther, 12, center fielder and the coach's son. "We work hard at it."

They trained several hours a day in preparation for the Western regional championship, hitting in the batting cage Ginther built in his backyard nine years ago.

"Practice and determination," said Sean McIntyre, 13, an outfielder, first baseman and pitcher, explaining how they got as far as they did. "I knew we had a good team, but I never dreamed of this."

Neither did Tyler Karp, 12, shortstop and sometime relief pitcher. "It's going to be really tough," Tyler said of the World Series. "We'll be playing the best teams from the United States and around the world."

Besides their love of the game, support from friends and family keeps them going, said Danny Leon, 12, a pitcher who pulled a muscle in his throwing arm and will play first base in Williamsport. "It makes you want to play better," Danny said.

When the boys head east Tuesday for their first game against New England on Friday, they will be accompanied by Ginther and his two assistant coaches, Frank Leon, Danny's father, and Chuck Karp, Tyler's father, as well as various friends and relatives, including Sean's grandfather, Jim Barrett, who helps train the boys.

The elder Ginther comes from a Thousand Oaks baseball dynasty that includes himself and his five brothers, Steven, Rich, Phil, Jay and Bob, all star players for the Thousand Oaks High School baseball team in the 1970s and '80s.

They learned the sport from their dad, Julius, who drove out from his retirement home in Pahrump, Nev., to watch his son's and grandson's team clinch the playoffs. "He told me, 'I never would have taken out [pitcher] Cody Thomson,' " Ginther said, referring to a switch he made in the fourth inning Thursday. "But when it was over and we won, he said, 'I think that's why you're in the World Series and I never made it.' "

Now there's a new generation of Ginthers playing ball. Ginther and his wife, Julie, have an older son, Zach, 17, who plays for Thousand Oaks High School, and daughters, JoBeth, 16, and Molly, 8, play softball.

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