LUFKIN MADE TEXAS PROUD IN LL WORLD SERIES
Thanks to a hurricane named Harvey (which turned out to be a real “wall-banger”) most Southeast Texans heeded the warning of the National Weather Service and spent last weekend hunkered down at home and became quite attached to their television sets. Yours truly was no exception and made my program of choice the final round of the Little League World Series, which has been played annually in Williamsport, Pa. since 1939. This year was somewhat special as Lufkin—which is a two-hour drive from Orange and is the residence of my daughter Karen Smith and her family—was playing for the national championship on Saturday afternoon against a high-powered (and very cocky) team from Greenville, North Carolina, which even brought its own mascot to the Series. I guess Lufkin’s opponent had reason to be a bit high-strung, having surrendered no runs and only one hit (Lufkin got it last Wednesday in an earlier round, losing 2-1 in extra innings) during the entire World Series. In fact, North Carolina announced its best pitcher, Matthew Matthijs, was being rested to pitch against Japan after they disposed of Lufkin. And North Carolina looked as good as their press clippings indicated, jumping off to an early 5-0 lead and limiting Lufkin to a single going into the last couple of innings. But their starting pitcher had thrown his allotted 85 pitches in the game and by rule was through for the day. Lufkin shocked the arrogant North Carolina fans by whacking the ball all over the field and assuming a 6-5 lead, which ended up being the final score. Those fans were bent out of shape even more when Mexico throttled North Carolina 14-8 in the consolation game Sunday. Lufkin had overcome all the heavy odds against North Carolina to win the national championship and duplicated what our team from Schenectady, New York—on which I was the shortstop–had done more than 60 years ago. Back then the rules for Little League baseball were much different. There was no double elimination, so if your team lost you went home. There were no rules forcing the coach to use every player in every game. However, there also was no such thing as a “courtesy runner” so getting every player in the game was a much easier chore than back in 1954. And we used wooden bats!!! And thank goodness there was no 85-pitch rule, although it would have been good for me because I was the No. 3 pitcher on the team and NEVER saw mound duty in the entire 11 games we played and won. In 1954 there were only eight teams earning the right to play in the World Series at Williamsport who had a combined record of 66-0. Six of our eight pre-series wins were by virtue of a shutout. Other teams earning a berth were from Needham, Mass. (9-0), sentimental favorite Masontown, Pa. (8-0), Hampton-Wythe, Va. (8-0), Lakeland, Fla. (8-0), Melrose Park, Ill. (8-0), Galveston, TX. (9-0) and the tourney’s highest-scoring team from Colton, Calif. (8-0). The World Series consisted of a quarterfinal game, a semifinal and then for the world championship. Our quarterfinal game was against Lakeland, which featured a behemoth 6-3 star named John “Boog” Powell, who went on to play for the Baltimore Orioles for more than 10 years. Our manager, Mike Maietta, brought a pair of 15-year-olds to pitch batting practice and throw nothing but fast balls which came in harder than anything we had ever seen. But it paid off because Powell was our mound opponent. He threw hard, but after three innings we had scored 11 runs and went on to win 14-0. Our semifinal game was against Masontown, Pa. where only a handful of the 16,000 fans were rooting for Schenectady. After a hard-fought contest, we emerged the winner, 5-3. The championship game occurred on a Friday afternoon before a crowd of 18,000 against Colton, Cal. But the tables got turned somewhat as most of the 16,000 that rooted for Pennsylvania two days earlier were in our corner for this big game. Colton featured another pitcher over six feet who threw hard and a shortstop named Kenny Hubbs, who went on to play second base for the Chicago Cubs. Schenectady jumped off to a 5-0 lead after two innings and hung on to beat Colton 7-5 and was declared the Little League World Champions. Unlike Lufkin, we had no international opponent. Neither Mexico nor Japan were yet involved in Little League baseball. However, Sunday Japan had a crackerjack team, like they usually have, but had to rally to beat the scrappy kids from Lufkin, who socked two first inning home runs. But that’s the only scoring Lufkin could manage as Japan scored a dozen unanswered runs and won the world championship 12-2 on the 10-run rule, which didn’t exist back in 1954. Lufkin will wear the crown of the national champions until this time next year!! KWICKIES…It’s hard to imagine how the Houston Astros could remain focused enough to win two of three games from the Angels last weekend in Los Angeles while Hurricane Harvey was dumping all that rain on their city. Going into Tuesday’s action against the Texas Rangers, our Astros still held a commanding 13 ½ game lead over Seattle and the LA Angels. Although we didn’t get to see anything but Hurricane Harvey news Sunday, there was a PGA golf tournament on CBS in which Dustin Johnson rallied from a five-stroke deficit on the front nine to tie Jordan Spieth and then win with a birdie on the first playoff hole. The long-hitting Johnson recorded a 66 on the final day, winning the Northern Trust tournament and collecting $1,575,000 for his effort. Speith did fare too badly in the coin department, pocketing $945,000 for second place. Houston Texans fans shouldn’t be too upset about their team getting shut out 13-0 by the New Orleans Saints Saturday. After all, about a dozen key players were not suited up on the sidelines while Head Coach Bill O’Brien was having the offense running general plays every team uses. He doesn’t want to show the upcoming opponents anything. And while on the subject of the NFL, I don’t feel sorry for Colin Kaepernick and the fact nobody will offer him a contract. Some say the owners are black-balling him. Michael Vick wants him to get a haircut and look like an NFL player. Last weekend Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan said he would be open to signing Kaepernick if the front office wanted to do it. However, Hard-nosed Tom Coughlin, the team’s executive vice president, has the final say on personnel decisions. And he likes to steer clear of controversies. JUST BETWEEN US…It’s a crying shame that National Football League fans must shell out big bucks to see exhibition games in which most of the stars and starters play one or two series and are through for the day. Many don’t even suit up to avoid being injured by some overanxious rookie or walk-on trying to make an impression. And season-ticket holders are forced to include these “practice games” in their high-dollar packages. Head coaches despise the number of exhibition games their respective teams are required to play, which is even a concern of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. I feel the same way as our commissioner and I also don’t like the new idea of having only one cut down to the 53-man roster on Saturday. That’s going to be hard on everyone, especially the players who don’t make the team.