The Eastlake Little League 12-under all-star team’s journey to Williamsport has obviously created a buzz throughout the San Diego region and particularly so within the confines of Eastlake’s home California District 42.
California District 42 administrator Ernie Lucero has obviously been kept busy since last Saturday’s 9-0 victory against Belmont-Redwood Shores in the West Region championship game that catapulted the team to its history-making appearance in the Little League World Series.
Both he and Eastlake Little League President Ray Diaz ave made plans to be in Williamsport for Eastlake’s opening game on Friday. Lucero is hoping to stay until the LLWS championship game on Aug. 25.
“I'm very happy for the players, coaches and manager of the Eastlake Little League team,” Lucero said. “Having a second team from our district from the South County to make it to Williamsport is so rare.
“The Eastlake and Park View presidents, along with their board of directors, truly believe in positive coaching and training of all our volunteers. Their commitment to Little League and their dedicated efforts for our kids to enjoy the game of baseball is commendable.”
With two teams advancing to the LLWS in the past four years, District 42 has obviously started to attract attention — positive attention.
“Around the country everyone is saying that our Little Leaguers in District 42 play the best baseball in the United States,” Lucero said. “Proof of this is that two of our teams have made it to Williamsport to play in the Little League World Series in the last four years. I don't know of any other district that can say the same.”
It adds up to an enormous sense of community pride.
“The advancement of the Eastlake Little League team has boosted our community, and we're all very proud of them,” Lucero said. “A neighborhood baseball team whose players live within blocks of each other is a dream come true for the players, coaches and manager. We wish them the best of luck as they play to bring home the winning title.”
District 42 has a special guest back in Williamsport: 11-year-old Daniel Villarreal. Daniel is a Majors Division player within the district who has a severe case of cystic fibrosis. His lung capacity is currently at 60 percent.
Daniel and his family attended Wednesday’s Little League parade.
“We decided to send Daniel and his family to Williamsport to see the Little League World Series,” Lucero said. “We had no idea that our own Eastlake Little League team would be there.”
Daniel and Adam have been involved with Eastlake Little League since 2006. Adam has coached his son throughout his Little League career; Daniel recently played on the Rangers Majors Division team that included two of the current Eastlake 12U all-stars: Dominic Haley and Charly Peterson.
Daniel, or D.J., has battled cystic fibrosis since he was diagnosed at 18 months. Adam estimates his son has had more than 40 hospital admissions since then. The last two years have been extremely difficult for the family.
“Each time D.J. is admitted to the hospital, it's normally about a two-week stay for IV antibiotic treatment,” Adam Villarreal said. “He's a very courageous young man.”
Tim Johnson, a family friend and fellow coach at Eastlake Little League, brought D.J.'s inspirational story to the attention of Lucero.
“Ernie, in turn, approached us with this absolutely incredible gift to Williamsport for the Little League World Series,” Adam Villarreal said. “This happened over a month ago, with no idea that our own Eastlake all-stars would make it this far. That has been icing on the cake.
“We are friends with every player on this team as well as their families. Many of them visit D.J. in the hospital whenever he's admitted, most notably Dominic Haley, Charly Peterson and Nick Mora. However, every family on this team cares dearly for D.J.”
The family right now is mainly geared to watch Friday’s game pitting Eastlake against the Great Lakes regional champion.
“We’re just really excited to support our friends and their families,” Adam Villarreal said.
The family will return on Saturday with a lifetime of memories.