The world championship of the Junior League Baseball World Series is back in America for the first time since 2012.
The USA champions from the Golden Hill Little League in Fullerton, California, defeated the International champs from the Radames Lopez Little League in Guayama, Puerto Rico, 8-3, to win the
39th annual JLWS on Sunday, August 18, at Heritage Park in Taylor, Michigan. The win for the Southern California state champs ended a six-year streak of world titles won by Asia-Pacific region teams from Chinese Taipei. On Friday night, the national champs of Puerto Rico defeated Taoyuan City, Chinese Taipei, 4-3, to win the International title and eliminate the defending champs from competition.
The Junior League World Series features 12 teams of 13- and 14-year-old baseball players from around the globe. The tournament has been held in Taylor since its inception in 1981. The JLWS is considered the “older brother” of the more famous Little League World Series for 12-year-olds that is played in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The tournament operated on a “modified double-elimination format.” A team continues playing until is loses twice. When there are only four teams left in contention, the top two teams in each pool play for the pool championships. California was the only undefeated team in the tournament, going 3-0 in USA Pool play before capping the eight-day event with the win over Puerto Rico, which finished 4-2. The Golden Hill all-stars were 20-0 since the team was formed this summer.
“I never dreamed this would happen,” said California Manager Dan Wagner. “It’s like winning the lottery. I knew we were good, but it’s a long road, a hard road and you’ve got to beat some good teams. You’ve got to get some breaks. “As a coaching staff, we’re so proud of our kids. They’ve been so relient, so receptive and such a tight-knit bunch of guys. We couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s been such a great experience to coach them and call ourselves a part of a team that they’re the heart of.”
The world championship was the first for a USA West regional champion since Scottsdale, Arizona, won it in 2009, and the first for a California team since LaMirada won it in 2003. Guayama was seeking the first world title for Puerto Rico since Arroyo won it in 1999. As for this year’s world title game, Golden Hill the Puerto Rico national champions a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and then scored in five of the six innings they batted, capping it off with three runs in the sixth. California #39;s Kyle Kim, who came on in relief in that first inning, allowed six hits and one run the rest of the way to claim the victory. He walked three and struck out three. “Pitching is what carried us all throughout the summer,” Wagner said. “We were deep. We threw strikes… So many times we leave the field and say ‘that was a great team win.’ We got significant contributions from everybody.” At the plate, Kim and teammate DJ Garcia each had two hits against Puerto Rico, scored a run and knocked in a run. Eric Jeon and Jack Bender scored two runs apiece.
Yahir Fonseca went 3-for-4 for the Radames Lopez Little League all-stars from Puerto Rico. Teammate Nathan Martinez went 2-for-3. The rest of the world champions’ roster includes Conor Sunderland, Sean Gonnella, Russell Yang, Andrew Wagner, Dustin Staggs, Brett Myers, Tyler Simkins, Walker Calvo, Bohdi Faulkner and Carter Abeelen. The coaching staff includes Manager Dan Wagner and coaches Ed Kim and Steve Gonnella.
“The strength of our team is team spirit: the way those kids support each other, encourage each other and fight as brothers together,” Wagner said. “I’m going to really miss being a part of this team. I want the next game to happen tomorrow. It’s been such a fun time playing baseball at such a high level.”
Other USA teams playing in the 2019 JLWS were the Southeast champion Viera Suntree Little League from Melbourne, Florida; Michigan District 5 champion Taylor, Michigan; East champ Berlin, Maryland; the Southwest champions from the Tulsa National Little League in Oklahoma and Central champ Johnston, Iowa. In fact, Tulsa was the first team from Oklahoma to play in the JLWS.
The other four International teams were the Latin America champions from the Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little League of Reynosa, Mexico; the Australian national champions from the Perth Metro North Little League; the Europe-Africa regional champs from the Emilia Romagna Little League in Bologna, Italy; and the Canadian national champs from Medicine Hat, Alberta.
THE REST OF THE STORY
California’s Ed and Kyle Kim made history. They marked only the second time in JLWS history that both father and son played for world championship teams in Taylor. Ed Kim was a 13-year-old player with the West Rowland Heights, California, Little League junior all-star team that won the JLWS in 1987. This year, Kim returned as a coach of the world’s best team from Fullerton, with 14-year-old Kyle as a member of the team. Only one other time has a father and son played in the JLWS. In 1984, Scott Sato was a member of the Pearl City, Hawaii, team that won the world championship. In 2007, son Keanu Sato played for the same Pearl City league and also won a world title.
This week, while the Kims were in town, the World Series also paid homage to the Rowland Heights world champions. Steven “Moose” Reyes, a standout pitcher on the 1987 team, traveled to Taylor to witness the younger Kim’s turn in the World Series. Ed Kim and Reyes are lifelong friends.
WHAT A RUN!
The significance of the loss by the six-time defending champions from Chinese Taipei cannot be understated. This was the 10th year in a row that Chinese Taipei teams won Asia-Pacific regional championships to earn the right to play in the World Series. During that decade, Chinese Taipei teams won world titles seven times: in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Their cumulative record has been 49-4. This year, it took a great come-from-behind effort by Puerto Rico to defeat Chinese Taipei for the International title, 4-3. In the seventh inning, Chinese Taipei was leading 3-1 and was one out away from repeating as International champ when Puerto Rico’s Nathan Martinez hit a two-run homer to tie the game at 3-3 and send the game to extra innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Eric Rodriguez singled home Fonseca with the winning run. The win by the Puerto Rico boys avenged a 5-1 loss to Chinese Taipei earlier in the week.
TAYLOR MADE FOR THE JLWS
Before the 2018 Junior League World Series, Little League International authorized the Michigan District 5 champion to play as a host team in the tournament. The addition of an American team evened up the USA and International pools at six teams apiece. This year, a team of Taylor players – made up of the Taylor Northeast, Northwest and North Central Little League all-stars – won the district title and played on World Series Field at Taylor’s Heritage Park. After an opening-day loss to Oklahoma, Taylor rebounded with victories over two regional champions – Central champ Iowa and East champ Maryland – before the team’s World Series run came
to an end against. Florida. The local team had a huge following of every time it played.
ESPN ALL WEEK LONG
For the first time in JLWS history, all 21 games were shown on the ESPN family of networks. Games were streamed on ESPN+. In addition, the world championship game also was broadcast on ESPN2. Fans were able to sign up for ESPN+ through the ESPN App or at the website www.espnplus.com for $4.99 a month or $49.99 per year.
“What an experience to have ESPN here,” said California Manager Wagner, who is an assistant district attorney in Orange County. “We could play a game and then go back and watch it on TV. It’s like being a big league player. Every kid’s dream can come true.”
HOME RUN DERBY
Alejandro Arrendondo of Mexico won the annual Junior League World Series Home Run Derby on Friday night. Cole Loftis of Taylor was runner-up. The other six finalists were Drew Thorning of Taylor, Appollos Horrell of Florida, Adiel Rivera of Puerto Rico, Nicola Spagnolo of Italy and Cesar Monjaras and Alejandro Gutierrez.
A TRIBUTE TO THE PARTICIPANTS
“For the 39th consecutive year, we welcomed the world to Taylor for the Junior League World Series,” said lifelong volunteer Dan Bzura, son of JLWS founder and director Greg Bzura. “What a week it turned out to be with athleticism and sportsmanship on full display. We saw Puerto Rico defeat an always tough team from Chinese Taipei and we witnessed Taylor defeat not one, but two regional champions. “The camaraderie between the teams this year was special: like Australia and Maryland playing a game of Australian rules football, or Mexico and Puerto joining arms on the field after a hard-fought game. “Participating in the JLWS is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Athletes, coaches and umpires earned the right to be here. New friends from around the globe are made and memories that will last a lifetime are created.
“None of it would be possible with the incredible group of volunteers who run this tournament. Knowing their time, effort and dedication creates an event that will forever impact the lives of these kids drives each volunteer to do everything possible to make dreams come true. “Next year is our 40th,” Bzura said. “Keep an eye out for special ways we will celebrate 40 years of welcoming the world to Taylor.”