By Luke Ramirez, 2009 LLBWS Champion
The summer of 2009 came and went so fast for me and my team, Park View Little League from Chula Vista, Calif., on our way to winning a world championship. One moment that did slow down for me was championship weekend in Williamsport and the fact that we were one game away from a national championship and two from the Little League® Baseball World Series title.
Looking back, I have to start with the first-round elimination game against Warner Robins, Ga. It was easily the most exciting game that I was a part of that year and maybe in my whole baseball career. I felt the despair of almost certain defeat after we gave up a nine-run top of the fourth inning to make the deficit, 10-5.
With only 12 outs to play with, we scored six runs but more importantly, put up two scoreless innings to outlast the Southeast Region champions in the bottom of the sixth inning. After our center fielder, Markus Melin, slid home safely with the game-winning run, I came to a moving realization; we were now one of the top four teams in the world.
When that hit me, things actually slowed down for the next few days leading up to the U.S. Championship Game. I felt like I was finally able to take a step back and enjoy our accomplishments up to that point. The notion that we had an opportunity to be the best team in the country and represent the U.S. was one of the coolest feelings I have ever experienced.
Now, I had to get ready for my start on the mound, the last I would ever make in my years of Little League. I remember that having a profound effect on me as well. Every bullpen session I put in with my dad and coach, Ric Ramirez, had gotten me to that point where my little league pitching career would end.
Pitching that game against the Southwest Region Champions from San Antonio was one of my favorite memories because of the overwhelming emotions of the situation. With already a nine-run lead in the top of the second, it was pretty difficult to stay in “game mode” with the idea that we were going to win this game and play for a world championship.
After a 12-2 victory in four innings, I walked off the mound to the chants of “USA!” echoing through Lamade Stadium. That was for us. Park View was the best team in the country.
One of the questions that I’ve asked several of this year’s players is, “Do you understand the gravity of what you are accomplishing.’ It was hard for me and my teammates to see it back then and I’ve found that to be true of this crop of Little Leaguers®. For the first time that night though I did and it meant so much to me.
We were on to Sunday and the LLBWS championship game against Chinese Taipei. Looking back now, I think the best part about the tournament structure is that there isn’t a lot of down time from game-to-game to sit around and be nervous. We woke up the next day and went right down to the cages at around 11 a.m., keeping up with our pregame routine we had all summer. What we couldn’t ignore was the atmosphere and anticipation of the championship game as people began flooding into the Little League International complex.
More than 32,000 were on hand by 3 p.m. and it was not a question at all that they were rooting for us. Like I said, it was hard to keep up with and process all of these feelings and emotions as they happen one after the other, while we were just trying to win another game.
I remember one thing that stuck out to me that also helped me block out everything else. In all the Little League fields in the world, there was no other team playing a competitive game. Park View and Kuie-Shan Little League Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei was the only game happening.
I did my best to hold onto that during the game while we battled for the championship. Sure enough, our pitcher Kiko Garcia threw the final strike of 2009 to the tune of Brent Musburger’s ESPN call, “Chula Vista, start your celebration.”
We did our best to dogpile next to the mound, me on the bottom, of course, and embrace each other. After what seemed like an hour, my teammates got off of me, and I was able to get up and hug my dad, without question the best part of the entire summer.
We were World Champions! Something that was hard to understand back then, but means everything to me know. And while many players my age have gone far further into the baseball, I have a season, a game, and an experience overflowing with special memories that no one can ever take from me.