Written by Luke Ramirez, Member of the 2009 Little League Baseball World Series Championship Team from Chula Vista, California
COVID-19 has taken so much from so many, and while it is important to keep the big picture of the effects from this global pandemic in mind, the impact it has had on sports is glaring. Fortunately, we have seen professional sports slowly start to make a return, bringing a sense of normalcy back to everyday life. For me, a former Little League Baseball® World Series champion, there is still a gaping hole in the sports landscape with the cancellation of youth sports’ most coveted title.
To help fill this void, I wanted to share my experiences as a player in the 2009 tournament and beyond. Those memories are so meaningful to me and embody how important the Little League World Series is for those who are lucky enough to play in it.
I am often asked, “What was the best part about it all?” It’s not exactly easy question to answer. There is so much that goes on beyond lacing up your cleats and playing six innings.
For me, the entire summer of 2009 was such a whirlwind. One of the first moments that I was able to slow down and step back to realize the magnitude of our accomplishments came after a full day of weary traveling from California to Pennsylvania. At the very end of that journey, the bus driver eased off the accelerator on U.S. Route 15 Highway in Central Pennsylvania. We came out of the long lull and saw bright lights. It was Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Lit up, but completely empty and desolate. I had never seen a more pristine ball field. We sat and watched it get closer and closer as we pulled into the complex. A short walk off the bus and we had the best seat in the house, high up on the iconic hill above the right-field foul line. I remember being awestruck at the beauty of this stadium, illuminated against a pitch-black silhouette of the mountains that I found out surround the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Valley.
“We knew you were coming, so we left the lights on for you,” our team liaison said as he greeted us.
It was that moment where everything over the past three months had come together. The practices, the wins, the losses. It all meshed as we stood at the top of the hill, looking down over the stadium. That’s when I knew I was going to have the most special two weeks of my young life.
Beyond the sights and sounds you take in as a player, the interactions with and relationships built are what make an even bigger impact. The day after our first win at the Little League Baseball World Series, we sat in the cafeteria and ate breakfast with the team from Mexico. One of the coaches from their team had a small sandwich bag of chili peppers that they used to spice up their food. The bag made its way around to the players wearing green and red and eventually to my plate. They challenged us to try some for ourselves. I obliged and crunched one up with a mouthful of eggs. The small peppers packed a huge punch and most of my teammates, including myself, could not handle the heat as we all laughed (and cried).
Upstairs in the recreation room where we got to play ping pong, video games, and watch SportsCenter, we sat and hung out with the team representing the Caribbean Region from Curaçao. When ESPN replayed the LLBWS highlights from the previous day, all the games went on pause and everyone gathered around the main TV to watch. They showed a highlight of me hitting a home run and a few of the Curaçao players stood up in front of everyone and mimicked my home run celebration in synchronization with the replay on the TV in the background. Everyone got a kick out of that and congratulated me. We may not have been able to hold conversations for long, but it was not hard for a bunch of kids to gel.
Embracing my dad, Ric, who was one of our coaches, after the final out to win the championship was one of the best moments of my life. Baseball had been our lives up to that point. We hugged in front of the mound and soaked in that world championship feeling together. I will never forget that and can only hope to share something like that with a son of my own one day.
I couldn’t write about my experience playing in the LLBWS without a huge shout-out to the staff and volunteers that make that tournament go. Their dedication embodied what Little League is all about. Every moment they commit helps to ensure the joy of a unique and memorable experience for Little Leaguers® each year and over the course of the amazing tournament.
I was fortunate to get a glimpse behind the scenes in 2017, when I interned with the Little League International Communications Department and contributed content to LittleLeague.org during the Little League International Tournament. After my experiences in 2009 opened my eyes to sports journalism and broadcasting, I pursued a career in the field and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I was able to come full circle and had the incredible opportunity of interviewing Major League Baseball (MLB) players, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, legendary Major League umpire Gerry Davis, and USA Women’s National Soccer team standout Sydney Leroux-Dwyer. The favorite story I wrote for LittleLeague.org during the 2017 Little League Baseball World Series highlighted a display of sportsmanship in its purest form.
It was such an awesome experience and one I will always be thankful to Little League International for allowing me to have.
These memories and experiences do not even scratch the surface of what Little League and its World Series mean to those who earn the right to participate in it.