Ron Pietila is known throughout San Diego County as the “godfather of girls soccer.” It’s an affectionate title that he wears well.
But he is also the grandfather of two prominent players on a pair of high achieving Eastlake Little League all-star tournament teams that have left their mark on fields throughout the state — and beyond — this summer.
Elijah Christensen, a sixth grader at Arroyo Vista Elementary School, helped Eastlake Little League’s 10-under all-star squad record a meteoric second-place finish at this summer’s Division III Southern California state championships.
As for 12-year-old Micah Pietila-Wiggs, an eighth grader at Eastlake Middle School … well, he’s currently back in South Williamsport, Pa., preparing to go to bat for Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-star team in the hallowed Little League World Series.
Grandpa Ron is obviously proud, and with good reason. He and his father were part of a World Series run in 1962.
It’s quite a family tradition.
“I remember well the excitement that was generated by the National City-Paradise Hills communities when our Nat-Par PONY team earned a spot in the World Series in 1962,” Ron Pietila said. “These types of experiences are extraordinary.”
That Nat-Par PONY team was pretty extraordinary in its own right.
The local squad fashioned a 16-2 overall mark, including a 15-game winning streak, in settling for a third-place finish in the PONY World Series.
Nat-Par began its all-star tournament drive with a 22-0 thrashing of Coronado and ended it with an 8-2 loss to Greensboro, N.C. It was an experience of a lifetime for all the boys, their coaches and families.
Frank Pietila and Dick Asay coached the team. Ronnie Pietila, as he was known then, was one of the team’s standout players.
Like every championship run, talent wasn’t always enough. Sometimes teams had to make their own luck.
Sometimes out of nothing.
Nat-Par was embroiled in one of the longest games on record in a sectional tournament played at Helix High School. The National City squad eventually prevailed by a score of 4-3 in a contest that took two days and 14 innings to complete.
But that was only part of the story.
The younger Pietila relieved teammate Fred Stransky on the mound in the sixth inning and battled through nine frames before the team could record the win.
Pietila fanned 17 batters and gave up two hits after Stransky had given up one run, two hits and struck out 10.
The events of more than 50 years ago remain clear in the mind of Ron, now 65.
“Bottom of the seventh, we had two outs, nobody on. I hit a ground ball to shortstop and beat it out for an infield hit. My dad had me steal. The catcher overthrew second base and the ball went through the center fielder's legs. I scored to tie the game and we played many more innings before returning the next morning.”
Richard Stapp hit a double to win the game.
“Apart from the two losses in the World Series, this was our toughest game,” Ron explained.
In an era without home computers, digital cameras, fax machines (and even microwave ovens), one of the few mementoes that remains to stand witness to those heroic events is a black and white photograph.
Included in the photo are Ralph Sarmiento, Georgie Pearson, Don Bergeron, Ted Williams, Stransky, Jim Melillo, Sapp, Wayne King, Greg Ellis, Pietila Bobby Mendoza, Bill Wozencraft and Robbie Robinson (bat boy). Not pictured from the team are Dale Hines and Carl Hansen.
Stransky played offensive line at Florida State University, has a doctorate degree and is now a major university professor.
Melillo played offensive line at USC and blocked for O.J. Simpson.
Pearson was killed in Vietnam.
Ron Pietila was the only team member to play baseball at the collegiate level. He later played professionally at the minor league level before becoming a teacher and coach.
“Future athletic paths are extremely difficult to predict,” he said.
Ron said it’s been a pleasure watching both his grandsons compete this summer.
“I was proud that Micah bounced back from a poor semifinal game to be one of the team leaders in the final — he is a fine baseball player,” Ron said, adding, “Micah's cousin Elijah has worked extremely hard for his place in the sun and proved to be a mainstay on his team.”
Actually, exceling athletically has become a family tradition. Elijah’s older sister Dylan is off to DePaul University on a softball scholarship while Micah’s younger brother Kelii was a member of Eastlake’s 8-under Tournament of Champions team.
Dylan Christensen earned honors as Eastlake High School’s 2012-13 Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year.
Haydn Ann Marie Christensen (named for Pietila’s mother Ann Marie) will follow her older sister at DePaul.
“It is remarkable how all of the grandkids have done so well with the bat and ball,” Ron said.
Well, it must be in the genes.
Little League World Series
Friday, Aug. 16/South Williamsport, Pa.
West (Eastlake) vs. Great Lakes (Grosse Pointe Woods- Shores, Mich.)
Game time: noon PDT
The opponent: Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores defeated Illinois state champion Jackie Robinson West, 10-3, in Saturday’s Great Lakes Region championship game in Indianapolis. The Michigan team is led by 6-foot-2, 210-pound pitcher Chad Lorkowski, who belted two home runs and struck out 10 batters in the regional finale.
Who's on first: Little League World Series format
Each team at the Little League World Series is guaranteed three games. The tournament encompasses 16 teams — eight from the United States and eight international teams.
Tournament play began on Thursday, Aug. 15, with four games and continues with four games on Friday, Aug. 16, including Eastlake’s first-round encounter against Great Lakes Region champion Grosse Pointe-Shores from Michigan (10 a.m. PDT).
The four first-round winners advance to second-round play on Sunday, Aug. 18. The Eastlake-Grosse Pointe-Shores winner will play the winner between the first-round encounter pitting the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regional champions at 2 p.m. PDT.
The winner’s bracket semifinal game is scheduled Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 5 p.m. PDT.
The winner of that game secures a berth in the United States championship game scheduled Saturday, Aug. 24, at 12:30 p.m.
The United States champion then meets the international bracket champion in the Little League World Series championship game on Sunday, Aug. 25, at noon PDT.
Mexican champion Municipal de Tijuana defeated Australian champion Perth, 12-0, in Thursday’s international bracket opening game to advance to play Latin American champion Aguadulce in Sunday’s second round after the Panama team recorded a 9-4 winners over Caribbean champion Lorenzo (Puerto Rico).
In U.S. bracket games on Thursday, Northwest region champion Sammamish (Wash.) topped Southwest region champion Corpus Christi (Texas), 8-4, while New England region champion Westport (Conn.) edged Southeast region champion Nashville (Tenn.) by a 3-2 score.
The four first-round losers in both the U.S. and international brackets drop to the consolation pool. The two teams in each bracket play one another on Saturday, Aug. 17, with the two winners advancing to meet the two winners bracket second-round losers on Monday, Aug. 19.
The winners of Monday’s consolation games meet on Tuesday to determine which team will face the loser of Wednesday’s winners bracket semifinal game.
The consolation bracket championship game will be played on Thursday, Aug. 22. The winner of that game will challenge the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal game in the ensuing U.S. championship game.
Similarly, the international championship game is scheduled on Aug. 24 and the teams will be drawn from both the winners bracket and consolation bracket pools.