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Beverly Hills swings for the fences with Little League kickoff

The city enlists some TV personalities and former major leaguers to help it mark the beginning of the 70th year for the youth baseball organization.

March 25, 2009|Ari B. Bloomekatz

It was time to play ball at a Beverly Hills park Tuesday afternoon, but it wasn't your usual Little League game.

CNN's Larry King was the announcer.

Hall of Fame member Dave Winfield and former star Fred Lynn coached the teams: the Culver City Little League Nationals versus the home team, the Beverly Hills Cardinals.

Actor Luke Perry threw out a first pitch. And Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Barry Brucker was on hand to make sure everyone played fair.

The star-studded cast was part of the game that kicked off the 70th anniversary of Little League's first season. Leagues around the nation are celebrating the milestone, but Beverly Hills decided to do it up in style. It helped that both King and Perry have children in the league.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, March 26, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Little League: An article and headline in Wednesday's Section A about an exhibition game in Beverly Hills marking the 70th anniversary of Little League baseball's first season said that Beverly Hills enlisted major leaguers to help out with the event. Subway restaurants hosted the game and enlisted the players.

The Culver City teammates crowded around Winfield for a little advice before the first pitch.

"I started when I was about 8 years old, and I got a chance to travel the world," Winfield told the group of 11- and 12-year-olds.

"Learn the right lessons here that your coaches teach you about being on time, taking care of your teammates, being responsible. All those kinds of things just growing up as a kid, this is a great place to do it," he said. "Now put your hands in there!"

The game was an exhibition and lasted only four innings.

The Nationals won, 8-6, but 11-year-old Chad Johnson, who plays first base for the Cardinals, was still happy with the afternoon.

"It was really cool when I got to see the two famous baseball players and Larry King," he said. "I had never seen them before."

His mother was also a little star-struck. "It's a wonderful experience for kids their age, to meet the players" said Chad's mother, Andrea Johnson. "It's a beautiful day for baseball."

She said she first enrolled Chad in Little League because "he would try and play in the living room and mimic everything he saw on television. Spitting and doing everything."

"It's a thrill. It's the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up," Johnson said.

The game was just underway when Winfield shouted, "First rally of the season" to the Nationals' bench when the opposing pitcher walked a batter in the first inning.

"Uh, oh," he said when the next batter hit a ground ball straight to the shortstop.

"I hope they remember this experience," Winfield said, "having a Hall of Famer and another one of the greatest players in baseball history to coach them for the kickoff of Little League. I just hope that they remember that and that they play baseball a long time. It's a great path."

Players cheered "Good eye!" and "Stay alive!" as their teammates were up to bat and gave each other high-fives when they came back to the dugout.

Kirt Watts' son, who is 12 and goes by the same name, plays for the Nationals and sprinted out to his position in center field.

"He loves the game. It's his favorite sport," Watts said. "I hope he cherishes this. I hope he uses this to better himself as a player and as a person."

King, 75, said Little League "is part of my whole family structure."

He earned a certain degree of notoriety last year when he was kicked out of a game and suspended from attending two for arguing with an umpire.

"I have a great passion for the game. Too much passion," King said. "By the way, you can't win. I learned this. You argue with an umpire, you're always going to lose."

--

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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