Torrance Little Leaguers are living the dream in Williamsport for the World Series
Major League Baseball is rightfully patting itself on the back for its successful piggyback ride on the iconic “Field of Dreams” movie.
MLB’s made-for-tv game in the compact made-for-tv ballpark surrounded by Dryersville, Iowa cornfields was a hit featuring an entertaining guest appearance by Kevin Costner, the star of the movie.
Not to be overshadowed by an actor, Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit two-run home runs in the top of the ninth to turn around what had been a 7-4 game.
Then along came Tim Anderson to steal the show with a climactic walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to give the White Sox a 9-8 win. Residents of the press box could not resist calling it a Hollywood ending.
Now comes the real dream deal, the Little League World Series.
To provide proper perspective for baseball and dreams, we turn to Ollie Turner, a 44-year-old Torrance coach.
“I always dreamed about coming here,” he said. “This facility is amazing. The field is super green. I’m trying to soak it all in.”
He was speaking on the phone from the borough of South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the Little League World Series is played. Torrance faces North Manchester-Hooksett, New Hampshire at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Turner’s dream began when he was 9, playing Little League ball in Torrance. Three years later, in 1989, as a 12-year-old, he was on the Torrance team that played San Pedro Eastview in the district tournament.
Veteran observers will recall that the Eastview star was a young lady, Victoria Brucker.
“She hit a lot of home runs,” Turner remembered. “They beat us two out of three games to advance. They went on to beat Hawaii to go to the Williamsport. I think Victoria hit a home run in that game.”
Brucker was the first American girl to play in the Little League World Series. The trail was blazed by Victoria Roche from Brussels, Belgium, who played in 1984.
Turner would go on to pitch at Torrance High and Harbor College, where several of the Eastview players were his teammates. He finished his undergraduate baseball at UC Davis. He returned to Torrance High as a math teacher and had a successful dozen years coaching, winning the only CIF baseball championship in the school’s history, which began in 1917.
Tough losses, such as when he was a youngster to Eastview and at Harbor when the Seahawks were eliminated in the Southern California Community College Super Regional by eventual state champion Cyprus linger.
This group of Torrance 12-year-olds is wiping all that away.
The road has not been easy.
Torrance survived a nail-biting, tight three-game set against Palos Verdes Lunada Bay in sectional play, winning 2-0, losing 7-5 and, finally, advancing with a 4-3 a nine-inning (a regulation Little League game is six innings), win.
“These kids are resilient,” Turner said. “They are fearless. They’ve been able to come from behind like crazy.”
Torrance manager Javier Chavez labeled the team the “Cardiac Kids” when, in each of the next two rounds, the Southern California Tournament and the West Regional Tournament, they lost a game to be relegated to the lose-and-go-home elimination bracket. Each time they persisted.
The script was set with a loss in the first Southern California game, to Eastlake Chula Vista.
“That’s the tough tournament, with 10 teams,” Turner said. “A lot of good teams come from Chula Vista. They usually are the favorite. After the loss, we won seven straight and beat them twice at the end to become the first Torrance team to qualify for the Western Regional (in San Bernardino).”
It was the same story in this round, with a loss and a scramble to make it to the championship game against Hawaii, a 7-2 loss that did not matter because both teams advanced to the World Series.
Suddenly, the exploits of Torrance players Christian Chavez, Gibson Turner, Skylar Vinson, Grant Hays, Xavier Navarro, Dycen Miyake, Kaishu Harrison, Dominic Golia, Andrew Nuruki, Brandon Perez, Elias Emerson and Isaac Mora are chronicled in the same sports sections with Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and David Fletcher.
Turner chuckled when asked about coaching a group of pre-teens with typical what-me-worry? attitudes.
“They just want to get in the pool or go to the cafeteria and see the kids on the other teams,” he said. “It’s amazing to bond with kids this age.”
He tipped his proverbial cap to Javier Chavez.
“He coached my son’s team (during the regular season),” Turner said. “He’s a great leader, a great overall community man.”
Speaking of son Gibson, you know the ESPN people are jumping all over the Turners naming him after Dodgers legend Kirk Gibson.
How did Ollie talk wife Wendy into that?
“We’re Dodgers fans in our family,” he said. “In our house, we call Justin Turner ‘Uncle Justin.’ We already had Owen. That’s a combination of my name and Wendy. Our daughter is Kennedy, named after my mother’s favorite president. Well, maybe Lincoln is her favorite president.”
Good decision. Kennedy works a lot better for a girl than Honest Abe.
“We had a lot more discussion with those two,” Turner said. “I suggested Gibson, the star the last time the Dodgers won the World Series before last season. Wendy liked it.”
And that was that. A perfect baseball name. At least in a Dodger family.
As for the Torrance team, the long and the short of it are Hays and Navarro.
Hays stands 5-foot-8 and, as he said on camera during TV introductions before the Hawaii game, “I eat fastballs for breakfast.”
The new breakfast of champions.
He also hits those fastballs out of the park.
Turner explained Hays’ audacity.
“It was great,” he said. “The kids were a little nervous. ESPN encouraged them to have fun. They’re just kids trying to be humble and funny.”
Navarro is 4-11 and, as Turner said, “His heart is bigger than his chest. He is a ton of energy. He is loving it all the time.”
Eventually, it does come time to play baseball.
But first, Turner had to accompany the players to the swimming pool.
“I’ve got to lifeguard,” he said.
Earlier in the day, they practiced at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, the field where they will play.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “What a beautiful field.
“The players get homesick. They were in quarantine in the tournament in San Bernardino. They miss their families. Heck, I miss my family. But the players have come together and become brothers.”
And speaking of dreams.
“This really is special,” Turner said. “Every time I walk around, I’m just in awe.”