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A season of superlatives for local Little Leaguers ... and it isn't over yet Phillip Brents | Thu, Aug 08 2013 05:24 PM

Sunday’s San Diego Padres-New York Yankees telecast on Fox Sports San Diego set a new record for the network’s highest rated telecast.

According to Nielsen Media Research, Sunday’s 6-3 Padres win over the Yankees produced an overall average rating of 5.2, equating to nearly 56,000 households in the San Diego market.

Overall, ratings for Padres telecasts are 44 percent higher than last season.

Last Friday’s series opener, however, likely wasn’t too much of a hit in eastern Chula Vista.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the television monitors at Eastlake Tavern & Bowl were tuned to ESPN3’s coverage of the Little League West Region tournament game pitting Southern California champion Eastlake and Hawaii champion Central East Maui.

There was rooting and roaring and all the things you’d expect from a championship-caliber baseball game — only the fans weren’t cheering on a Major League Baseball club.

They were cheering on Eastlake Little League’s amazing 12-under all-star team.

Yes, Eastlake Little League has made the big time.

League president Ray Diaz — as well as the rest of the league’s executive board — has to be floating on air right now with an enormous sense of pride.

In fact, Eastlake Little League has enjoyed unparalleled success this season. Not only is the league’s 12-under all-star team two victories removed from participating in the revered Little League World Series, but its 10-under team recently wrapped up a second-place finish in the Division III Southern California state championship series.

There’s more. Eastlake Little League sent four teams to this year’s California District 42 championship finals, winning banners in the 10-under and 12-under divisions. The league recorded runner-up finishes in both the 11-under and Junior divisions.

Prior to that, Eastlake Little League advanced teams to all three championship games in the district’s annual Tournament of Champions. Eastlake LL captured the title in the Minor Division and took second-place finishes in both the 8-under and Major divisions.

Unprecedented success. But how?

Diaz attributes it to the level of coaching skills now prevalent in the league as well as the natural talent inherent in the players themselves.

It has certainly added up to a winning formula, particularly where the 12-under all-star team is concerned.

“A lot of it is a credit to the kids,” said Diaz, who is in his second go-around as league president. “They have played real loose. They’re having fun. If you just go out there and play baseball, you get results.”

As a league administrator, Diaz said it’s been his job to help take care of the business end of things to allow the coaching staff to bring out the best in the players, which is exactly what has happened.

“We’ve minimized the distractions to the coaching staff — they’ve focused in on just coaching the kids,” Diaz said. “We’ve found that to be successful in putting together a winning team. They’ve taken care of business so far.”

It’s been a team effort, from the league’s executive board to the coaching staff, from team moms to the players.

“It’s a benefit to the program,” Diaz said. “To get to this level is a credit to all the hard work and training everyone has put in.”

Eastlake’s 12-under team has already started to conjure images of Park View’s heralded 2009 World Series championship team. Eastlake isn’t there yet, but the team is working on it.

Where will it all end? Possibly in Friday’s semifinal playoffs. Possibly in Saturday’s regional championship game. Possibly even in South Williamsport, Pa.

Eastlake LL manager Rick Tibbett and his team realize they are making history for the league, and possibly even rewriting it for District 42.

The league’s Facebook site recorded 60 new likes between Sunday’s 15-0 victory against Nevada state champion Mountain Ridge and Monday morning.

Social media has opened up a new vista on the world — and it’s an exciting one.

Congratulatory messages are streaming in on Tibbett’s cell phone as the league website receives even more hits.

While the team has been sequestered in San Bernardino since July 31 for the two-week regional finals, fans from the South Bay have driven northward to catch the team’s games.

The trickle of fans filing into Houghton Stadium for last Friday’s opening ceremonies has turned into a flood of well wishers.

 “There’s a lot of blue on our side,” Tibbett acknowledged. 

Friday and Saturday’s playoff games are expected to attract 12,000 fans to the venue.

There should be an overflow crowd at Eastlake Tavern & Bowl. Friday’s semifinal game is scheduled at 2 p.m. on ESPN2. The regional championship game is scheduled Saturday at 6 p.m. on the premier ESPN channel.

New horizons
Diaz said the 12-under all-star team’s journey to the West Region tournament has personally opened doors for him.

“For me, I’ve done all this stuff with District 42 but I had never been to the region finals in San Bernardino,” he said. “It was a pretty significant moment in my life to be there with the team. The opening ceremony was impressive.”

Batter up!

Fundraisers
Eastlake Tavern & Bowl was the site for a bowling tournament fundraiser on Saturday designed to help raise funds to help defray travel and lodging expenses for parents of players on the league’s 12-under all-star team who have followed the team on the road.

The community at large can help by donating through PayPal on the league’s website: www.eastlakelittleleague.vicid.net/.

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