Lightning has struck twice for a Chula Vista youth baseball team after the Chula Vista North All-Stars defeated Simi Valley, 3-1, on Aug. 3 in Fullerton to claim the coveted championship of the Pony-13 World Series.
Instead of blue, the color this year is maroon.
“I’m very proud of the kids,” said Chula Vista North Pony League President Saul Corona. “They did something that makes my head spin. It makes all the time I spent here — I started as a coach in 1999 — seem worthwhile.”
Park View’s Blue Bombers were the darlings of Chula Vista last year after winning the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
But what about Chula Vista North? What identity will its players take in local lore?
Team members adopted the acronym BAMFs, according to manager Joe Valdez. (Its exact meaning will be left to the reader’s imagination.) Ultimately, it translated as success.
“You always start with the goal of winning everything but I never look at it that way,” Valdez said. “I’ve always stuck to one thing at a time. You can’t have tomorrow without having today. You got to go out and deal with the task at hand — taking care of business one game at a time.”
It took CVN 18 games to take care of business. The local bunch won 16 games, losing once each in the super regional and zone championship tournaments.
CVN went 4-0 in the eight-team World Series tournament that started July 30, defeating Nassau from the Bahamas and Evansville, Ind., (twice) en route to gaining a revenge victory against Simi Valley — the team that hung the Chula Vistans with a loss in the super regional tournament.
Isaiah Armenta struck out 13 batters in the climactic contest, though the score between the teams remained deadlocked at 1-1 until the bottom of the sixth inning. In that fateful frame, Daniel Schneeman laid down a successful squeeze bunt that scored teammate Tucker Torano. Armenta then drew a walk, and pinch runner Justin Sparby later scored on a single to left field by Hudson Pearson for an insurance run.
Armenta then closed out the top of the seventh inning in order: 1-2-3.
The crowning moment finally arrived: World Series champions!
“Each team scored early on and it was a bunch of zeroes after that,” Valdez said. “Isaiah pitched all seven innings, giving up just two hits and striking out 13. There was a lot of noise in the ballpark and nervousness on the players’ part to start the game but he settled down after the first inning.”
Besides the aforementioned players, CVN’s all-star roster also included Andy Rios, Bulla Graft, Robby Weissenfels, Casey McPherson, Isaac Vargas, Seamus Beyerle, Ricky Reynoso and Brandon Torio.
Valdez was joined by coaches Berto Tejeda, Javier Moctezuma and George Lara.
If Armenta, Rios and Graft’s names are familiar ones, they should be. All three were members of last year’s Park View Blue Bombers world championship team. They were among six Park View world champions overall who made the jump to Pony Baseball this season.
“It feels great to be back-to-back — just knowing that our city and our county has the greatest baseball players in the sport at these high levels makes you feel proud,” said Armenta, an eighth grader at Rancho del Ray Middle School. “It meant a lot to us representing our league and our families. It was great to represent our city and our county and everything we live for.”
“It feels good — a lot of people never have this opportunity,” Rios added.
The CVN World Series championship team, officially dubbed CVN-maroon, was actually one of two 13-year-old all-star teams fielded by the league. The CVN-gray team shadowed the maroon squad throughout the rise up the tournament ladder, finishing second to the maroon team at the regional tourney, then taking second place at the ensuing sectional tournament to also advance to the super regional in Fullerton.
“We had a lot of talent at the 13-year-old level this year,” Corona said. “Rather than leave good talent behind, we decided to have two 13-year-old all-star teams.”
Road to victory
Chula Vista North opened all-star tournament play July 1 by hosting the San Diego regional championship tournament. CVN-maroon captured the title, defeating CVN-gray in the final 11-2. CV North qualified for regionals as the host league.
After winning the regional championship, CVN-maroon then advanced to the eight-team super regional tournament in Fullerton comprised of teams from Riverside southward.
CVN appeared to be cruising along until dropping a 7-6 contest against Simi Valley, which went on to win the tournament. With the victory, Simi Valley advanced directly to the World Series tournament while CVN had to further test its chances in the West Zone tournament, also held in Fullerton.
CVN advanced to the championship game against Cypress but dropped a 14-9 decision to force a second championship game against the same Cypress team.
“The extra game was the exciting game,” Valdez said. “We were down 8-2 and in the bottom of the fifth we rolled an eight spot.”
Torio pitched five innings in the must-win game. At the plate, CVN rapped out eight consecutive hits in one inning, ending with a three-run home run by Torano to push the SD County team ahead 10-8.
“Both games were the same day in Fullerton,” Valdez said. “A lot of people came up to watch us play. They saw two great games. It was high baseball drama.”
The Big Show
The eight teams comprising the 2010 Pony-13 World Series included CVN, Simi Valley, Nassau (Bahamas), Evansville (Ind.), Laredo (Texas), Culiacan Sinaloa (Mexico), Cranberry Township (Pa.) and Fullerton.
At this point, Valdez said he felt his team was just blessed to find itself where it was.
“At that point, you don’t know your competition,” the CVN manager said. “We played the Bahamas in our first game — how are you going to scout them? It was my understanding that their top pitcher threw a perfect game for them to beat Panama to get to the World Series. They threw him against us and we smoked him.”
CVN defeated the Bahamas, 10-0, to draw the Indiana team. The Chula Vistans defeated the Evansville crew in two tight games, winning 12-11 and 3-2, to advance to the championship game against Simi Valley.
Simi Valley (home of the 2009 Pinto and Bronco World Series champions) advanced to the final with a 6-2 victory against Laredo and a pair of wins against Mexico (4-2 and 10-7).
Corona said CVN’s toughest competition came from other Southern California teams.
“Coming out of San Diego is hard on its own,” Corona said. “The hardest teams to play against are from Southern California. The teams from Indiana and the Bahamas only had to win something like five or six games to get to the World Series while we had to play almost 15. We had a tougher road. Beating teams from Southern California is tough — I’ve seen that for the last 10 years.”
But the Chula Vistans were ready for the challenge, according to Armenta.
“Our team stayed calm and kept its composure,” he said in noting the team’s secret to success. “The key was to keep our heads and not rush into anything.”
Armenta, who fanned 45 hitters in 32 innings, said having two former Little League World Series champions as teammates on this year’s CVN all-star squad helped tremendously in the leadership department.
“The key part was knowing that we had been there before,” the ace CVN pitcher said. “We kept telling our teammates that it wasn’t over until it was over.”
Rios concurred about keeping a low-key attitude, especially when heading into big games. “It was another championship game in another tournament,” Rios said flatly. “That’s how you simply have to look at it.”
But don’t get the impression that these kids were robots on the field. When it was time, they let their emotions out.
Schneeman called the World Series championship a “once in a lifetime experience.”
“There was a big dog pile at the end — it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I’d like to go back-to-back next year.”
CVN players spoke about teamwork and sacrifice for the greater good.
“(Winning the World Series) showed that our team played together the whole time,” McPherson said. “We all played as a unit. After we lost to Simi Valley (in super regionals), I think us playing that extra tournament helped a lot. It was a great experience. I’m happy I went through it.”
“It was a great team effort,” Sparby said. “We worked very well together. Hopefully, we can do it again next year.”
“It took a lot of hard work but it paid off because we won,” Pearson said.
“It was fun to win and be noticed,” Weissenfels summed up.
Everyone, it seemed, contributed to the World Series championship run.
Armenta picked up five wins and one save while Pearson also starred on the hill with 44 Ks in 31 innings, posting three wins and one save.
CVN launched 14 home runs and scored 159 runs. Graft led the team with seven home runs, followed by Torano with three, Armenta with two and Pearson and Sparby with one each.
McPherson suffered a broken nose during one of the games against Evansville, with the injury resulting in surgery the day following the World Series championship game.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox and the Chula Vista City Council issued an official proclamation of appreciation to the team prior to Tuesday’s City Council meeting. For many on the council, it was dÈj‡ vu after receiving the Blue Bombers last year.
Cox had these words to the team: “Keep bringing home those championships.”
Corona said he expects the Pony-13 World Series championship to boost interest in league sign-ups next season.
“I think it’s going to boost our numbers,” Corona said. “We field nine teams already and only have so much room. I hope we can do it with 10 teams. We only get to use the field for so much time, and with the way the all-star tournaments are set up, they now start in the middle of June, it’s difficult to work around that schedule. We also have our own post-season tournament to schedule. I think our numbers are going to increase. I hope we can accommodate them. But, you know, that’s a good thing.”
Chula Vista North Pony League: field of dreams
According to current league president Saul Corona, Chula Vista North Pony League got its start in the late 1950s. At present, five Little Leagues feed the CVN program: Park View, Sweetwater Valley, Eastlake, Chula Vista American and Chula Vista National.
“Out of those five, we get good top all-stars from the different teams,” Corona said. “We didn’t expect to get 80 kids to sign up as 13-year-olds (this season).”
Corona said the transition from Little League to Pony Baseball (where basepaths are 80 feet apart, not 60) can be a tricky process — one that is not necessarily accomplished in one year.
“Not everyone making the transition from Little League to Pony pans out,” Corona said.
CVN has advanced teams to the Pony-13 World Series twice, winning the championship title this year after placing third in 2005.
Two sets of brothers have played on both CVN Pony World Series teams. Patrick Schneeman and Tyler Torano participated in the 2005 championship tournament. Manager Joe Valdez’ son John also was a member of the 2005 CVN team.
The Pony-13 World Series is a relatively recent outgrowth of Pony Baseball’s championship tournament format. Prior to that, 13-year-old all-star teams finished their seasons at the sub-national level.
A separate Pony World Series is held for the 14-year-old age group. The Pony-14 World Series celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.
In other completed age group championship games, Tijuana captured this year’s Bronco-11 World Series while Santa Clarita’s W.S. Hart won this year’s Mustang (9-10) World Series title.
Officially, the organization is known as PONY — an acronym for Protect Our Nation’s Youth and is headquartered in Washington, Pa. The non-profit organization was started with the objective of helping young people grow into healthier and happier adults, primarily through the games of baseball and softball. PONY became an international organization in the late 1950s and currently has a presence in 21 countries.
It was a banner year all around, so to speak, for the CV North Pony League. The league’s 14-year-old all-star team advanced as far as the super regionals.
Corona said next up on the league’s agenda is winter ball, which is slated to start after Labor Day. Sign-ups are slated Saturday, Aug. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the league’s Eucalyptus Park field. For more information on CVN winter ball sign-ups, call Saul Corona at 721-2285.
For more information about Pony Baseball, visit the Web site at www.pony.org.
Road to the Pony-13 World Series title
San Diego Regional
CV North (maroon) 5, Vista 0
CV North (maroon) 11, CV South 1
CV North (maroon) 5, CV North (gray) 2
CV North (maroon) 11, CV North (gray) 2
CV North 6, Diamond Bar 3
CV North 11, Irvine 1
CV North 14, Los Alamitos 1
Simi Valley 7, CV North 6
CV North 6, Long Beach 2
CV North 9, Heartwell 2
CV North 16, Tucson (Ariz.) 4
CV North 8, Cypress 4
Cypress 14, CV North 9
CV North 14, Cypress 9
Pony-13 World Series
CV North 10, Bahamas 0
CV North 12, Evansville (Ind.) 11
CV North 3, Evansville (Ind.) 2
CV North 3, Simi Valley 1
Chula Vista North
Chula Vista North
James "Budda" Roman