La Mirada California
By Dave Gorgon
Remember the blackout of 2003 that stretched from the Midwest to the East Coast? For the boys and coaching staff of a baseball team from La Mirada, California, the nation’s largest power outage was part of a magical mystery tour that led them to the championship of the Junior League World Series in Taylor.
The August 14, 2003, power outage simultaneously struck dozens of cities, including Taylor, which was hosting the 23rd annual World Series for the top teams of 13- and 14-year-old players. A game that had been scheduled for that night between La Mirada and Sugar Land, Texas, was postponed because there were no lights at World Series Field.
The game was played the next morning and the California boys responded with five home runs in a 14-0 victory.
The power outage was just one hindrance the La Mirada boys faced that summer.
“We all went through the power outage, our hotel had no lights or running water, we went through three rain delays – there were quite a number of obstacles,” Manager Jim Gordon said at the time. “It was hard to stay focused, but we had a great group of boys and parents. We’ll never forget this week.”
La Mirada – located 18 miles southeast of Los Angeles – went on to defeat Santiago, Veraguas, Panama, 8-7, in one of the most dramatic championship games in World Series history.
After 2½ hours of rain delays and four lead changes, the game was tied at 5-5. George Gonzalez and Jacob Johnson were on base and A.J. Rodriguez stepped into the plate hoping to get a single that would score a run and put his team in front. Instead, he teed off on a pitch from Ruben Tejada into the outfield stands for a three-run homer.
Panama rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning, but stranded the tying run on base. As the Latin America champions cried in defeat, the USA and new world champs celebrated in front of an ESPN audience.
La Mirada went 22-3 after forming an all-star team at the end of the regular season and won four of five games in Taylor.
Gordon returned the next year to enjoy the 2004 World Series experience as a visitor instead of a manager. And this year, his memories of that 2003 championship season are still fresh.
“It was an incredible experience to be a part of the event in 2003,” Gordon said. “We all thought just advancing to be a part of the experience in Taylor was the ride of our lives. Little did we know that the experience had just begun.
“From the moment we arrived in town, the hospitality and the warm welcomes were non-stop. I couldn’t have imagined seeing so many people involved as volunteers to make our boys and feel like champions from day one. Even through the rain delays and the infamous power outage, Greg (Bzura, tournament director) and the rest of the group kept the entire event moving forward and created nothing but great memories for us all.
“Our host families may have been more excited about our success than we were at times. They were absolutely incredible in taking car of us and showing us Midwestern hospitality.”
Gordon said “advancing to the national championship game was another step in what seemed like a dream.”
“Our boys all have memories of being a part of something so special that I am sure they will continue to talk about them for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“One of my fondest memories involves the team from the South: Bridgewater, Virginia – whom we defeated in the national championship game. One of their fans was a wonderful older gentleman who seemed to be at every one of our games. I believe his name was Satch. When we weren’t playing his hometown team, he sat right next to our dugout and supported our boys. I remember his suspenders and the many baseball pins he always wore. I still have a picture that we took at the end of the tournament. I have not spoken to him since, but I often think about ol’ Satch and wonder how he is doing.”
Gordon admitted the game vs. Panama was “one of the most stressful things I can remember going through.” He said the rain left “probably a foot of rain in the outfield at one point.”
“I have no idea how everyone got the field in shape to play the game, but somehow we got our game in. I didn’t think about ESPN being there while the game was going on, but when I look back at the game on the DVD copies we had made, I see all the stress I was feeling inside showing on my face.”
Part of the stress, he admits, came from the pressure of wanting to help his players win it all.
“I think all of the boys wanted to come home as world champions and I didn’t want to have to look back thinking I let them down,” Gordon said.
When Jordyn Baldwin hit a home run in the bottom of the fifth inning, “I knew we were going to win,” he said. “When A.J. Rodriguez followed with his game-winning home run, I couldn’t wait for the game to end. Watching Taylor Seimens pitch the end of the game to close out Panama was an incredible feeling.
“The excitement was overwhelming to walk out onto the field knowing we had defeated so many teams and were the last team remaining out of so many talented Junior League programs. To look up into the stands and see parents crying and out on the field and see our kids celebrating was a memory I have relived many times over. Our picture celebrating as a group on the pitcher’s mound is one of my favorites. The picture of everyone joining in our team prayer after the game is another great memory.”
In the two years following the championship, all of the players entered high school. Six of the boys played on the La Mirada High School varsity team this year. Michael LeBlanc played as a junior and Stephen Kaupang, Jason Dovel, Jake Johnson, Jason Pesante and Seimens made the team as sophomores.
Kaupang was one of the leading hitters on the team at .323 with 16 runs batted in. Johnson led the team with 22 RBI and hit .317. Dovel was the ace of the pitching rotation with his 7-3 record and 1.59 earned run average. He was named first team all-league and all-division.
Chris Amazquita played varsity ball as a freshman at Servite High School. Rodriguez played varsity for the second year at St. John Bosco. Frankie Fichera moved to Crestline, Ohio, where he played varsity as a sophomore and finished with a .376 average and 24 RBI. He was named first team all-league and second team all-district.
“It is fun to follow the boys and track all of their accomplishments and successes,” Gordon said. “Most of them are still playing and hopefully some will have the chance to play in college. Only time will tell, but I know they all share memories that they will have forever. They were part of an incredible team that people in La Mirada followed, supported and will talk about for a long time.”