As I write this, it is early Sunday morning, several hours before Ocean View Little League's championship World Series game versus Japan (an interesting coincidence, give that one of our sister cities is in Japan).
The teams, of course, are about 2,600 miles east in Williamsport, Pa.
I'm here in Huntington Beach, sitting by Ocean View's home field, part of Murdy Park. State Sen. John A. Murdy donated the 15-acre parcel of land for this park in 1962. The skate park here is the first skating facility ever constructed in Orange County. This is also the location of the very first community center ever built in Huntington Beach.
But from now on, the park will probably be best known for this team.
And I'm thinking as I write this, no matter what happens in the championship game, we should all remember this field, and tell people about this field, and celebrate the young men who play baseball on this field. Because regardless of the final score today, what the Ocean View Little League team did in the last several weeks was quite extraordinary. In fact, what all of the teams did (and do each season in Williamsport) is extraordinary.
They leave their small towns, their big cities and their far-off countries to play on a world stage. All of a sudden, tens of thousands of people flock to see them, cheer them and revel in their accomplishments. They compete with the most elite players from around the globe, all the while representing, in near-Olympic fashion, where they come from.
Babe Ruth once said, "I won't be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and 16 wearing a glove and swinging a bat." And so, somewhere, Ruth must be smiling.
As I write this, the sprinklers have just shut off, and home plate sits in a muddy, sandy pool. And it is all but silent. An already-warm breeze moves some infield dirt, but there is no baseball here today. Yet, something hangs in the air, some far-off echo of aluminum bat meeting ball, the smack of a ball meeting glove, the long-ago cheers of families on a balmy evening. If you listen close, you might hear an umpire's bellow, or an upbeat "2-4-6-8" cheer, the winner's cheer, along with a less hearty chant from the losing side.
I came here to quietly honor this team before the game, because win or lose in the final, what they have already done, for me, almost renders the last game anti-climactic.
Any Google News search of Huntington Beach in the last year or two has produced a slew of negative news stories related to our city. Escalated drunk driving statistics, a hotel that caters to sex offenders, downtown boozing and brawling, the Robert Rizzo affair and more ugly episodes that don't just leave dents in a city — they leave big, ugly scars.
And along comes this group of disciplined, composed, poised players (and coaches and parents) to rewrite the headlines. After eliminating team after team with an almost businesslike expertise out here, they headed back East to the hallowed fields at Williamsport. While there, they made friends with other teams, rode in a parade and, game by game, won the hearts of millions of Americans. They exemplified the spirit of the game and were sportsmanlike, hardworking and classy. They laughed and played like the kids they are, and will no doubt return with a ballpark full of memories.
However, they also helped restore this city's image as a place with solid, decent, hardworking people who play hard but by the rules. They put Huntington Beach back on the map for all of the right reasons.
As well, they didn't just make this city proud. They made this country proud and, in turn, also reminded many of us why we fell in love with this game in the first place, many of us as Little Leaguers ourselves. I received many notes this past week from readers expressing that they were enjoying the Ocean View game as much as or even more than Major League games.
Why? Because it was real. There was not a penny involved. Even tickets to the games were free. As heavy as the cliché sounds, this really is playing for the love of the game. Because that's all these kids know right now — this marvelous game that connects generations and bridges international gaps and elevates that most simple act, having a catch, into an almost religious exchange of simple glory and connection.
Speaking with manager Jeff Pratto the last couple of weeks gave me some nice insight into this team and its approach. His calm, steady demeanor clearly influenced his team, and so he should be applauded. As of this moment, his team is the best in country. By end of day, they may be crowned best in the world. But as he told me, their goal was a U.S. title. And they achieved that.
Sitting here by their field of dreams, I take one last look around, and call out the words "good luck" into the still, summer air. They may not have heard that back in Pennsylvania, but I'm sure they feel what we are all wishing their way — luck, but especially thanks and appreciation for representing Huntington Beach in such stellar fashion.
Our own little remarkable Boys of Summer, whose feats back East I hope many will always treasure right here at Murdy Park, now our own little hallowed baseball landmark.
Congratulations to all of the fine teams back East — and a special thank you, Ocean View Little League, for demonstrating such a high standard of graceful excellence.
Note: A celebration parade honoring the Ocean View Little League team for its successful run in the Little League Baseball World Series will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 10. The parade will start at Orange Avenue and Main Street and head down Main toward Pacific Coast Highway to end at Pier Plaza. Anyone wishing to help with the parade can contact Specific Events Coordinator Chris Cole at (714) 374-5312.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.