Play Ball!

Phillip Brents

Fri March 28, 2014 11:24am

Eastlake Little League held its 2014 Open Day ceremonies March 7 with a salute of its 2013 champions, including its very own United States Little League World Series champion West All-Stars.
The east side Chula Vista league had three age-group teams capture championship banners last summer. The 10-under team won the District 42 Tournament of Champions title, while the 10-under All-Stars claimed three banners: District 42, California Section 7 and California Sub-Division III South.
The 12-under all-star team was obviously the most successful — and had fans cheering all the way into late August with its history-making trip to South Williamsport, Pa. to compete in the Little League World Series.
Along the way, the heavy-hitting Eastlake team captured six championship pennants: the District 42 title, California Section 7 title, California Sub-Division III South championship, Southern California State title, West Region championship and, in climactic fashion, U.S. Little League World Series title.
To put that into perspective, 7,000 teams in the 12-under division began the two-month trek down the road to Williamsport.
New Eastlake Little League President Steve Wiggs, whose son Micah became one of the nation’s media darlings while competing on last year’s U.S. LLWS championship squad, said the banner unfurling during the league’s 2014 Opening Day ceremonies was of noteworthy, as well as of emotional, significance.
“It was the first time that the World Series team held up all its banners together,” the elder Wiggs said. “It was one more appearance for the team, but it also acted as a sense of closure for them.”
The Eastlake Little League president said the banners displayed by the league’s younger players was of equal significance.
“When the younger kids held up their banners, it was a sign for the future,” Wiggs said.
A bright future, at that.
The success of the 2013 LLWS team obviously has spiked interest in the local league and, according to Wiggs, the entire area covered by California District 42.
This year’s Opening Day ceremonies featured 600 players in the traditional athletes parade. Wiggs called the increase “a significant number from last year.”
On hand to help with the Opening Day ceremonies were the Padres’ mascot, members of the University of San Diego baseball team, the United States Border Patrol honor guard and local student Vida Vasquez, who sang the national anthem.
Also on display during the March 7 ceremonies was the new scoreboard in right field of the main field with a dedication to the 2013 Eastlake LLWS national champions. The actual first games took place the following day on March 8.
“We actually had to push the opening weekend back one week because of the big storm that was forecast to come through (and which did, causing record rainfall in some areas of the county),” the Eastlake Little League president said.
The youth baseball league is fielding 34 teams this year in seven divisions:  T-Ball 4, T-Ball 5, Single A, Minor B, Minor A, Majors and Junior.
Regular season play continues into May, with championship league playoffs preceding the District 42 Tournament of Champions competition and summer all-star tournament play.
With 10 championship banners last year, it might be difficult for the league to match that this year, but enthusiasm is certainly not at a loss among the league’s young players.
“It’s really hard to gauge how well Eastlake Little League will do this year,” Wiggs said. “We don’t know yet how we will stack up against teams from the other leagues in our district. The excitement the LLWS team brought last year extends throughout the whole district, not just our league. Excitement, and numbers, are up everywhere.”
Eastlake defeated New England region champion Westport, Conn., 12-1, to win the U.S. LLWS title but fell, 6-4, to the team representing Japan in the LLWS championship game that was telecast across the globe.
Eastlake was six outs away from winning the coveted world championship before the Japanese erased a 4-3 U.S. lead.
Pitcher Grant Holman opened the 2013 LLWS in memorable fashion by throwing a no-hitter while striking out 13 batters in a game against Grosse Point Wood-Shores, Mich. He might have one-upped himself in the next game by cracking a walk-off game-winning grand slam home run against Westport.
So where will the heroes of the celebrated 2013 Eastlake LLWS national champions be playing this year?
Many of the players, according to the Eastlake Little League president, have moved on to play PONY baseball and with travel clubs while some have remained in the league to play at the Junior Division level, Micah Wiggs among them. 
We may once again be seeing some familiar faces clutching championship banners this summer.
The elder Wiggs is serving his first of a two-year term as league president. He said he’s enjoying the new position and its responsibilities.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of this community and it’s a privilege to work with our great board of directors and all of our great volunteers. We’re continuing what the previous board started and hope to add even more.”