Former LLWS, Eastlake High star athlete Micah Pietila-Wiggs mourned

A larger-than-life smile greeted attendees of Wednesday’s vigil for former Eastlake High School and Eastlake Little League star Micah Pietila-Wiggs on the Eastlake High School baseball field.

Life is vile right now.

The COVID-19 pandemic is entering its third year and has cast a dark shadow across all points on the globe.

Far too many people have left us before their time and the number keeps growing. It’s as if Biblical prophesies of plagues, wars and famine are all coming true. It’s unbelievable that we’re living through this. It seems like a dream, no, a nightmare. But, unfortunately, it’s true.

But life is ultimately about death, and the Grim Reaper finds many ways to claim victims, to carry souls across the abyss from our world as we know it.

Grief knows no bounds at present and more grief was heaped on the funeral pyre Saturday morning when former Little League World Series standout and Eastlake High School CIF champion Micah Pietila-Wiggs died in a traffic accident.

He was just 21.

His was another soul that left this planet far before its time.

It hurts painfully for all who knew this outgoing young man who reached such unbelievable heights and made so many friends with his infectiously positive personality along the way.

His life may have been short chronologically but long measured in other ways.

“He was more than just a star athlete; he was a star person,” Micah’s former youth football coach Tim Johnson noted at Wednesday’s vigil/celebration of life on the school’s baseball field.

Micah Pietila-Wiggs autographed this Little League World Series ball. Photo by Jon Bigornia

Micah lost his life in the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 22, after the pickup truck he was driving lost control and slammed into a traffic barricade near the U.S.-Mexico border. The single-vehicle accident was horrific. He was taken to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Many will remember Micah from the 2013 Little League World Series when he and his Eastlake teammates won the United States Division at the iconic youth baseball tournament in South Williamsport, Pa.

His flowing long blond hair made him an instant media darling.

Others may remember a slightly older Micah as a key contributor to Eastlake High School’s 2017 San Diego Section Open Division championship team that finished No. 1 in the state rankings and ninth nationally. He also played football at Eastlake High School as a receiver and leader in the defensive backfield.

Micah exceled in every athletic endeavor he attempted and, perhaps more importantly, made a greater impact with his joyful personality that made many friends and admirers.

He went on to play college baseball at the University of New Mexico and later at Santa Ana College.

He had recently enrolled at San Diego State University to start a new career path outside of baseball as a business major.

Micah played four years of varsity baseball at Eastlake High School as an infielder and outfielder. He notched a .420 career batting average as the team’s lead-off hitter. He earned all-league honors three times, all-section honors twice, one league batting championship and honors as the Mesa League Player of the Year in 2017. During his four years on the team, the Titans compiled a prodigious 115-21 record.

Eastlake finished 32-4 in its CIF and state championship season.

“There are so many great things to say about Micah,” Eastlake baseball coach Dave Gallegos said. “He was always jolly and happy. He was a fun player to be around, always smiling. He made everyone feel comfortable. But he was very competitive. He wanted his team to win.”

Cutouts in front of the stage highlighted key moments in the life of Eastlake High School alumnus Micah Pietila-Wiggs. Photo by Jon Bigornia

A 2018 EHS graduate, Micah accepted an offer to play collegiate baseball at the University of New Mexico. He played in 13 games for the Lobos as a freshman in 2019 that included a stop at Tony Gwynn Stadium in a Mountain West game against the host Aztecs. He spent playing time in the outfield as well as pinch-hitting.

Although he was only with the Lobos for a short time, he made a huge impact on the team with his infectious positive attitude, according to team officials.

The University of New Mexico issued a statement on Micah’s untimely passing.

“Micah made the world a better place,” assistant coach Jon Coyne said. “He was the first person to pick his teammates up if they were down and push them to be better every day. He always had a smile on his face, upbeat energy, and a huge heart. He will be missed very much.”

After leaving the Lobos program, Micah was looking to find the right stepping-stones to success at higher levels in the sport. He enrolled at Santa Ana College in Orange County in a bid to attract renewed interest from four-year universities.

He hit .280 with two home runs, 25 RBI and 45 runs scored in 47 career games over a two-year period (2019-21) for the Dons.

The 2013 Eastlake Little League World Series U.S. championship team was feted with a welcome home ceremony at Sleep Tain Amphitheatre. Photos by Jon Bigornia

The 2013 Eastlake Little League all-star team finished 22-2. Micah and teammate Jake Espinoza, also with a flowing blond mane, were the poster boys of the team. Micah led the tournament with 11 hits, including one home run, while Grant Holman was the ace pitcher, hurling a ho-hitter and finishing with a tournament best 28 strikeouts.

Holman also showed he could hit the long ball with a walk-off grand slam in South Williamsport in the team’s second game, a 15-3 run-rule win over Newark, Del.

Nick Mora also showed he could pitch with a pair of two-hitters in the lead up to the championship game.

Eastlake defeated Westport, Conn. to win the U.S. title but came up short, 6-4, to Fuchu, Tokyo, Japan in the championship game. Mora led Eastlake, the West region champion, with three home runs in the tournament while Holman hit two home runs.

A welcome home celebration took place at Sleep Train Amphitheatre, drawing thousands of supporters to the open-air venue. Micah was a favorite of autograph seekers.

Mora, Holman and Espinoza all attended Wednesday’s vigil.

Heartfelt messages adorned the stage at Wednesday’s vigil while the flag stood at half mast outside the school’s baseball field. Photos by Phillip Brents

“Being around Micah, he was full of energy,” said Mora, who is currently attending Chico State University and played baseball there for two years. “I don’t think he was ever down. He was always picking people up. He was there when people were down. He always had a smile.”

Mora, a catcher by trade, called the 2017 CIF championship season an “awesome” experience.

“It was reliving the great moments with my team,” he said. “It was great to win another championship, no one was left out.”

“It was special,” Espinoza said of the dual Little League World Series and CIF championship legacies. “About half of the Little League World Series team played together in high school. We were a bunch of guys who grew up playing together.”

“Nobody can ever take away the things we accomplished together,” Holman told the audience during Wednesday’s celebration of life gathering.

Being a competitive athlete was in Micah’s DNA.

His parents – Ronne Pietila (soccer) and Steve Wiggs (swimming, water polo) – were star athletes at Bonita Vista High School. Micah’s grandfather, Ron Pietila, helped found girls soccer as a CIF sport in the San Diego Section while teaching and coaching at Southwest and Bonita Vista high schools.

Ronnie Pietila-Wiggs now serves as assistant principal of student activities at Eastlake High School. Steve Wiggs now serves as the swim coach at Eastlake High School and also as the interventions coordinator at Bonita Vista High School.

A star youth baseball player out of Sweetwater High School, Ron Pietila was selected by the Kansas City Athletics in the 1965 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft. He played four seasons of minor league baseball with Reno in the California League, fashioning a .285 batting average with seven home runs, 126 RBI and 124 runs scored.

The elder Pietila took the news especially hard as he and Micah were very close and shared a mutual passion for baseball.

“The sun appeared this morning, but I feel no better today than yesterday when Kathi and I learned the heart-wrenching news that our 21-year-old grandson Micah Pietila Wiggs died in a traffic accident,” Pietila wrote on his Facebook page. “We have many of the details, however, the most important is … he was a fine young man.”

That seems to be consensus among those who knew him.

Tribute at the Eastlake Little League field. Photos by Jon Bigornia

Rick Tibbett, Sr., who served as manager of the 2013 Eastlake Little League team, recalls Micah fondly.

“When Micah was on my 2013 Little League World Series team, he was just happy go lucky, always smiling, and he kept the team moving forward and winning games with his talent,” Tibbett said. “His teammates looked up to him. I clearly remember one time when he played for ELHS. Eastlake was playing a team that was expected to beat them. Micah was the first batter. First pitch came and he hit a home run. That was the game changer. That was Micah — he could be counted on. And that extended beyond the field because he was also a good friend, a good neighbor, a good son and brother — just an all-around all-star guy.”

California District 42 Little League officials echoed those words.

“This incident has greatly impacted myself and all of us from District 42 Little League,” district administrator Ernie Lucero said. “I have known Micah and his family since he started playing Little League baseball as a 6-year-old when I was president of Eastlake Little League. The friendship continued with the family throughout the years.

“When Micah turned 12 years old, all of Southern California had the joy of watching him and his team as they advanced to represent the West at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.  As the district administrator of District 42 at the time, I had a front row seat to watch this 12-year-old kid handle himself with the media, public and his teammates as if he were a professional athlete. Micah and his teammates won the 2013 United States championship, honoring the Chula Vista community across the nation.

“While we were in Williamsport, Micah quickly established a following of kids who all wanted his autograph and photographs with him. He was so charismatic and the positive energy he exuded created an equally positive vibe among his teammates. To this day, they are still friends, which is what Little League is all about — that of creating friendships for life.

“Micah’s parents, Steve and Ronne, raised a respectable kid who grew into an admirable young man. Micah has left an indelible imprint on those who had the privilege of knowing him, and he will forever be missed.”

The 2017 Eastlake High School state championship team is immortalized on campus. Photo by Phillip Brents
A 21-second standing ovation from guests closed out Wednesday’s vigil on the Eastlake High School campus. Photo by Phillip Brents

“I was crushed when I heard the news of Micah’s passing on Saturday,” current California District 42 Little League assistant administrator Ray Diaz said. “I was the president of Eastlake Little League in 2013 and had the pleasure to watch Micah and the team play all the way to Williamsport and ultimately win the Little League World Series United States championship. This team of 13 players was so special and Micah was a standout charismatic leader. He would make these incredible plays that would leave you saying ‘Wow.’ Micah was so relaxed at the plate, humble in the dugout and just loved the game of Little League baseball. He was a true Little Leaguer playing to have fun with his friends.

“One memorable moment of my LLWS trip was the celebration dinner at the Genetti Hotel with team and all the families. I was with my family (i.e. wife, daughter, and granddaughter) and what I observed was Micah, who had just been on the Big Television Stage, just being that big kid with that huge smile circulating taking photos with all the families who attended the week-long event. So special and kind was Micah with all the families and their children.

“Micah is beloved in the Eastlake community as well as his family, Steve, Ronne and Keli’i.  My family and his family have been friends for years. My son-in-law Jared has been great friends of Steve and Ronne since high school. My granddaughter Isabella and Micah have been friends since kindergarten. So many of us in the community are connected this way. We love Micah and family, and his tragic passing is devastating. We’re broken-hearted.”

Former friends and teammates had a chance to pay their respects at Wednesday’s vigil. Photos by Jon Bigornia


The outpouring of love and support from the Eastlake community has been generous.

An initial goal of $5,000 was targeted for the family through on the Eastlake High School Facebook page. As of Tuesday morning, the amount had skyrocketed to $42,000.

It’s obvious Miach was much loved and admired and that this extended family remains so.

Alex Estrada, former coach at Eastlake High School and current athletic coordinator for the Sweetwater Union High School District, called Micah “one of a kind.”

“We all know his athletic accomplishments and as great as those were, he was an even better person,” Estrada said. “He always had a smile, was always happy and always took the time to a genuine conversation if you crossed paths. He understood what it meant to be a student-athlete and what it meant to be a friend to all. He had a presence that lit up the room and an energy that was infectious. He made you want to smile and have a great day.

“Micah helped elevate the baseball program to an elite level and was a part of a senior class that re-established the excellence of Eastlake football.”

Micah Pietila-Wiggs flashes his smile on the football field. Photos by Jon Bigornia

Micah was popular with just about everyone, including opponents.

Former Bonita Vista High School baseball coach Vincent Gervais called Micah his “all-time favorite opposition player.”

“He was a phenomenal athlete who was difficult to get out but extremely fun to watch play,” Gervais said. “Micah’s resume of championships pale compared to his championship personality.  Of course, I rooted for him and his teammates in the LLWS and I really tried to promote our program at Bonita to his parents who are BVH alumni.

“Micah had an athleticism and an acumen on the field for both football and baseball. He reminded me a lot of four players from San Diego County history — Andy Sanchez, Joey Fuller, Tommy Hinzo and Dave Roberts. All excelled in both baseball and football and all four were slightly undersized. All four were born influencers of their time. Micah made the best of every moment; he seized every opportunity and usually was the best in doing so.”

Tears and tributes were nonstop during Wednesday’s vigil, which was kept upbeat and positive fitting with Micah’s personality.

Program moderator Bob Hughes, who works as the chief compliance officer in the Sweetwater Union High School District, called the vigil, which was attended by hundreds, “an amazing turnout from an amazing community for our rock star.”

It’s about what impact he did leave rather than what he left unfinished.

A memorial service is planned for Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. at Eastlake Community Church.
Donations through Meal Train, are still being accepted. Please click this link if you wish to contribute: Meal Train for Pietila Wiggs Family
The Eastlake High School girls soccer team held a moment of silence before its match in remembrance of EHS alumnus Micah Pietila-Wiggs.