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Little League world champs get rousing welcome home

Arriving at their home field in Huntington Beach after their winning performance in Pennsylvania, the Ocean View All Stars are greeted with shrieks and applause from a proud, pumped-up crowd.

August 31, 2011|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Ocean View Little League team member Steven Kotkosky signs baseball caps at Murdy Park in Huntington Beach.
Ocean View Little League team member Steven Kotkosky signs baseball caps… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

The crowd started forming more than an hour before the world champs were scheduled to arrive. Gap-toothed little boys carrying scuffed baseballs and Sharpies. Men high-fiving one another. Squealing junior high school girls.

Baseball is built on a foundation of sepia tone memories passed on from generation to generation. Monday night at Murdy Park in Huntington Beach promised to produce plenty.

In the fading light of day, team moms did brisk business selling T-shirts for the Ocean View All Stars, winners Sunday of the 2011 Little League World Series. In kid sports, the fundraising and volunteering never stop.

"We never have to scramble to find managers. We have to turn people away," said Joy Madole, mother of three boys and an Ocean View board member. "It's a real close community where we all watch each other's boys grow up."

A half-dozen television news trucks were setting up in the parking lot and, no, they were not here to cover the Surf City Kickball League Championship playoffs on the other side of the park.

A woman with a microphone worked the growing crowd, interviewing players' moms, their kid brothers, a couple of former league presidents.

"We've just had an update on the team," she said. "They have just gotten on the 405 Freeway. They're getting closer."

Zip Atwood, 49, a retired Marine with a neck like a tree stump who has coached and managed in the Ocean View league for 11 years, was as pumped up as the kids around him.

"When you've coached kids this long, winning it all is like an outer-body experience for me," Atwood said.

"We've come real close in the past," he added, noting last year's Ocean View team fell one game short of making it to the 16-team World Series tournament. "But we finally got over the hump with great pitching. And it got us to the promised land."

Kameron Monestere, 6, and Kevin Cervantes, 8, waited to collect player autographs.

Whose did they want?

"I'm not sure," Kameron said, shrugging his shoulders.

"The best one," Kevin said. "The one who hit the home run."

For the players, it had been a crazy 24 hours. Beat Japan 2 to 1 on Sunday in South Williamsport, Pa. Wake up Monday and take a five-hour bus ride to Cleveland. Fly Cleveland to Houston. Then Houston to LAX. Another bus to Murdy Park, Ocean View's home field.

They sprinkled Murdy Park dirt in Pennsylvania before Sunday's big game. Did the job.

"They're almost here," the woman with the microphone said.

A young girl with braces stepped before the portable floodlights. She sang the "Star Spangled Banner." Behind the yellow police tape a mom worked to clear a path through the crowd.

"When he was 2 years old, we took a picture with him in a diaper with a little Angels bat and a hat on backwards and he's just running around," said Lisa Ramirez about her son Braydon Salzman, Sunday's winning pitcher. "That's when we knew...."

The crowd chanted "O-V! O-V!"

"Remember, these are 12-year-olds!" someone shouted. "Give them space!"

The Ocean View team came off the bus in uniform and snaked through the throng, chest high to the adults. Huntington Beach Mayor Joe Carchio greeted each with a handshake.

Moms hung leis around their necks to go with their championship medals. One player's grandfather snuck up and placed a toy tarantula on his grandson's shoulder; the boy surreptitiously placed it on a teammate. Fireworks exploded overhead, startling some of the players.

There were introductions, shrieks and applause. Then the woman with the microphone went down the line getting a few words from the champs. Poised beyond their years, they responded in the practiced parlance of pros.

"Amazing."

"Chance of a lifetime."

"It's so great being here with my teammates."

"Best birthday ever," said Justin Cianca, now 13.

The television cameras moved in for interviews with the players.

"What's next for you?" a reporter asked one.

"My bed," said a tired-looking Trevor Windisch.

But first there were autographs to be signed — on baseballs, caps, T-shirts, the forearms of giggling girls.

The boys scribbled for the better part of an hour on a night they will someday pull from their memories in all its sepia tone splendor.

mike.anton@latimes.com

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