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1983

Pacific Little League Commemorates
30th Anniversary of 1983 LL World Series

 1983_LLWS_Ticket


by Editor, Rick Cabral

Opening Day ceremonies will be held at Little Leagues across the region this Saturday, but only one will honor the last team from Sacramento to make it to Williamsport—the 1983 Pacific Little League All-Stars, celebrating their 30th Anniversary. 

Pacific was just the second group in local history to end up in the tiny Pennsylvania hamlet which is the birthplace of Little League Baseball (see sidebar at bottom). 

The journey of these 14 Little Leaguers and their two coaches is a remarkable story. 

~~~ 

Pacific—now called Land Park-Pacific Little League (LPPLL)—is nestled at the end of a dead-end road off Riverside Blvd. near the Sacramento Zoo on property owned by Holy Spirit Parish. While adjacent Land Park Little League drew from the tony, high-end neighborhood by the same name, Pacific took in the middle-class neighborhoods to the south, where it was commonplace for boys to ride their bicycles—sometimes more than a mile through their Hollywood Park neighborhood—to reach the oasis known as Pacific.   

Dooley
"Dooley" Bertolani Looking on from the bleachers at Pacific.
(Courtesy of LPPLL)

For 30 years Pacific’s bejeweled baseball diamonds were maintained by local fireman Lawrence “Dooley” Bertolani, whose backyard boarded the Little League fields. A native Sacramentan, for years Bertolani pitched in the local semi-pro and winter leagues. At Pacific, he was legendary for being an irascible curmudgeonly godfather, who one minute could be heard growling at players for spitting seeds on his immaculately-kept ballfields and the next could be seen in the bullpen teaching a boy how to get more spin on his curveball. Dooley, in fact, helped create Pacific LL along with former major leaguer and Sacramento native, Charley Schanz and together they grew it into one of the powerful leagues in the area. 

By the 1983 season, however, Pacific’s Major Division had dwindled to only four teams and 48 players, a noticeable decline from the league’s heyday (the continued downturn in player population prompted the two leagues to merge in 1994 as Land Park-Pacific and in 2000 Curtis Park LL also merged with LPPLL). The prior year’s 1982 All-Star team had claimed the District 7 crown but came up short in the Section 1 tournament.  

Bob Foster, a long-time coach at Pacific, volunteered to manage the All-Star team, while Ted Dacong, the Indians manager, agreed to serve as his bench coach. They assembled a team of 10 twelve-year-olds and four eleven-year-olds and began training immediately as if the league’s existence was at stake.  

1983_PacificLL_A-S

Pacific Little League
1983 All-Star Team
(Courtesy of Paul Gee Collection)

Foster, who owned a flooring business and had flexibility over his work schedule, immediately set up a schedule of two-a-day practices, which was very uncommon. Typically, Pacific held hitting practice in the morning, followed by defensive drills in the afternoon. Parental rumblings about the two-a-days prompted Foster to hold a team meeting to address the issues. 

He told the parents he appreciated their concern over the amount of practice time their kids were putting in. He conceded he was losing business revenue in the process, but pleaded “I’ve got a feeling this team has the potential to go places in this tournament, and I want to give them every break I can.” The parents appreciated the honesty and went home satisfied their kids weren't being overworked. 

Foster and Dacong proceeded to drill the boys as if it were a major league training camp, hitting stinging grounders during infield while employing the faster adults to run the bases to simulate the most competitive of situations the Pacific All-Stars might face. “I wanted it to feel like real live baseball,” Foster says. It paid off, as Pacific played splendid defense and mostly error-free ball throughout their improbable journey. 

The team was led by 12-year-old Pat Zalasky, a hard throwing right-hander who at 5’10” stood head and shoulders above his teammates and dominated on the mound. “He was throwin' gas in league,” remembers Paul Gee, an All-Star infielder. Stefan Cordova was Zalasky’s counterpart on the hill: a sidearm pitcher with a sharp curve and great control. Pacific’s powerful one-two pitching combination was the key to their success. Slugging right fielder Craig Kamikawa spurred the offense from his clean-up spot.  

The team also featured a rare oddity in baseball: a left-handed catcher in David Ayres.  

~~~ 

On July 13, Pacific opened the District 7 tournament against Parkway and prevailed 23-14. The hitters were led by Kamikawa who went 3x5 with two home runs. Zalasky punched two long balls as well, and Pat Wallace went 3 for 6. Starting pitcher Zalasky, however, gave up 12 hits and 14 runs in the contest. The lanky lad, who goes by “Z,” was just in his first full year of pitching and admits he just rared back and fired the ball. 

At the next practice, Kamikawa’s father Tom pulled Z off to the side and offered to teach him a new pitch: a cut fastball, also known as a “cutter.” The pitch that Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees used to become the finest closer in major league history. 

Once I started throwing (the cutter), everything clicked,” Zalasky remembers. “I went from being a big kid who could throw the crap out of the ball to someone who could actually pitch.”

With a win against Willow Rancho and two more versus Florin, Pacific claimed the District 7 pennant for the second straight season. 

The team and its following began commuting to Marysville for the Section 1 tournament. In the first game against Eureka, Zalasky spun a 1-0 no-hit, no-run gem, thanks to his newfound pitch, the cutter. 

On the first day in August, Cordova took the hill against Plumas/Quincy and nearly matched Z by hurling a one-hit masterpiece. His teammates, however, took the pressure off by scoring 10 runs, led by Kamikawa’s 4-RBI day, which included a home run. 

Pacific closed out the section title with wins against College Glen and Roseville that included another shutout performance by Z and a one-hit game by fellow pitcher, Cordova. The Section 1 representative moved on to the Northern California Divisional Tournament held at West Mare Island Vallejo. 

At this point, Sacramento reporters began to take notice of the potential Cinderella story in process. 

Zalasky again opened a tournament on the mound and the tall right-hander pitched his second no-hit, 1-0 shutout (8 strikeouts) of the postseason over a team from Hollister. Kamikawa drove in Pacific’s only run in the 4th inning. In both of Zalasky’s no-hitters, the pitcher remembers center fielder Richie Broshar making dramatic catches near the wall in center to preserve the shutout scores.  

Once more, Cordova and his curve ball silenced the opponent’s bats, as the Sacramento team won 4-1 with Kamikawa hitting another home run. It was Pacific’s 10th straight win against no losses in tournament play.  

Manager Foster thought they were in solid position to move on to the Western Regionals. But the team from Hollister, which came up from the Loser’s Bracket, had other ideas. With the seemingly unhittable Zalasky on the mound and Pacific leading 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Hollister scored the tying run when Z mishandled a slow bouncer down the first base line allowing the runner on third to score. With the score knotted 1-1, Zalasky pitched three more shutout innings but his team couldn’t cross the plate.

Button

Forced by Little League rules to remove his pitcher after nine innings, Foster relieved with Pat Wallace, who allowed the winning run in the 12th inning. Pacific’s players made the one-hour drive home with the first taste of defeat.  

Zalasky remembers the Pacific coaches encouraging the team to embrace the experience. “They’re kids like you. Go out there and see what happens.” How they rebounded the next day would mark this team for the ages. 

The same teams met again that evening at the Mare Island complex, this time for the championship and the right to represent Northern California in the Western Regionals. 

Stefan Cordova limited Hollister to two runs, and Pacific got a dramatic home run off the bat of Mike Farmer to take the lead. Ironically, just before the homer, Farmer had asked for time and stepped out of the batter’s box. But the umpire didn’t grant the hitter’s request and called the pitch a strike. Fuming and admittedly losing his composure, Farmer drove the next pitch over the wall to put Pacific ahead. 

But Hollister mounted a challenge in their last frame. With Pacific leading 5-2, Hollister had two runners on base with only one out. The next batter laced a liner up the middle, but second baseman Paul Gee snared the drive in his glove and stepped on second base for the double play to secure the hard-fought, well-earned victory. 

The Section 1 championship marked the first (and only) time a team from Pacific Little League had advanced to the Western Regionals along with 13 other semi-finalists, including state champions from 12 states and the Southern California representative. Mike Farmer recalls that the kids seemed oblivious to the pressures. “I don’t remember us being very nervous or worried about losing.”  

You certainly couldn’t tell on the flight south to San Bernadino, where most were enjoying their very first airplane ride. Perhaps Manager Foster hadn’t informed the boys that from that point on, it was a single-elimination format. Which meant every game was sudden death. 

On Saturday, August 13, Zalasky and company opened the tournament at Al Houghton Stadium by putting the Fairbanks, Alaska boys on ice, winning 14-0. Z allowed just one hit while striking out nine. Kamikawa again led the offensive charge with a three-run homer. Eleven-year old Aaron Fuller—the only boy from the team who would go on to play professional ball—also clubbed a round-tripper. Farmer and Wallace collected two hits apiece as Pacific scored six times in the second inning. 

The following day, the 14 teams and 200 boys and their families enjoyed a rare day of rest by visiting Disneyland and Space Mountain. 

Although the tournament continued on Monday, Pacific had another day off and went to Dodger Stadium to watch the home team battle the San Francisco Giants. 

Then an unexpected tropical storm dumped inches of rain over the next two days, postponing games and playing havoc with the schedule. Tournament organizers scrambled to find dry fields in neighboring communities.  

On Thursday, August 18th, Pacific traveled to Hacienda Heights for Game Two of the regionals against Laramie, Wyoming. Fortunately, the Sacramento team remained sharp, as Cordova gave up just one hit, struck out 15 and led the hitting parade with three RBI. Kamikawa continued the power surge with a 2-run homer, while catcher Ayres chipped in with 4 RBI in Pacific 10-0 win.  

The following day Pacific defeated Beaverton (Raleigh Hills), Oregon 3-0 in the semi-finals to earn a berth in the Regional Championship game against Las Vegas (Green Valley), Nevada. That team featured a future first round draft pick in Tyler Houston (who played eight years in the majors) and future major league catcher, Doug Mirabelli. The winner would punch their ticket to Williamsport. 

If that wasn’t pressure enough, the game marked the first regional Little League tournament game to be broadcast live. Legendary baseball announcers Mel Allen and Red Barber called the televised game. 

On Saturday, August 20 before 7,500 people and with cameras lining the field and the concourse, Pacific scored the first run of the game, giving Stefan Cordova the lead. Although he walked the first two batters from Las Vegas, he got out of trouble without allowing a run. But in the second inning, Cordova gave up a two-run blast and three runs in all as Las Vegas took a 3-1 lead. 

In the top of the third inning, Pacific plated two runs to tie the game. The Las Vegas manager brought in Tyler Houston to pitch. From this point on, Cordova regained his composure, and retired 18 of the next 19 batters he faced. But Houston was equally effective, stifling Pacific’s hitters. After six innings the game remained tied 3-3. 

In the top of the 7th inning, a bases-loaded walk to Zalasky scored Fuller and broke the tie. Pacific piled on with four more runs and swept Green Valley 8-3 to claim the Western Regional Championship and a secure a berth at the Little League World Series.  

“That was a great game. We were delirious after that,” recalls Foster. The following day the team flew to Pennsylvania, where they caught a small transport plane to Williamsport. The men remember the first moment they stepped on historic Lamade Stadium with expressions of wide-eyed wonder and a sense of disbelief. It was akin to Dorothy landing in the Land of Oz.   

LLWS_West

Pacific Little League
U.S. West Representative
1983 Little League World Series
Lamade Stadium in background.
(Courtesy of Paul Gee Collection)

In addition to the legacy of the historic venue, they faced the glaring spotlight of the national and Sacramento media, none more than Zalasky, the “big kid” among the bunch. Then, as U.S. West representatives, the lads bade farewell to their familiar red and white Pacific uniforms and were outfitted in the flashy new uniforms with “West” on the jersey and the pinstripe navy blue cap. Rumors circulated around the complex that the West team was favored to win the tournament, which increased the pressure-cooker environment of the Little League World Series. 

On Wednesday, August 24, Zalasky took the ball against Stamford, Connecticut. After four innings, neither team had scored. Then in the top of the fifth, the U.S. East team scored six runs. Z remembers that Lamade Stadium pitching mound surprisingly was practically non-existent, though he doesn’t use that as an excuse for his off day. In the following frame, Stamford scored two more runs to take a commanding lead 8-0 lead. In its last inning Pacific showed resilience by scoring two runs on doubles by Kamikawa and Farmer and an error. Pacific fought to the finish, but it was too little, too late.  

In hindsight, Manager Foster saw it coming. His players didn’t seem “up” for the challenge as they had been throughout the preceding tournaments. And little more than an hour later, the dream was over. As coach Ted Dacong summarized it for a Bee reporter, “We’re still one of the eight best teams in the world.” 

Fortunately at the Little League World Series, teams continue to play on after being relegated to the Consolation Bracket.  

In their second game, Pacific pounded the Canadian team 10-0 as Cordova led the way, pitching a two-hitter while striking out six and driving in three runs with two hits. He finished the postseason a perfect 9-0. Kamikawa, Fuller and Zalasky had multiple hits and Broshar drove in a pair of runs to help Pacific notch their lone victory in Williamsport.  

In their final match against the U.S. North team from Chicago, Foster ensured all the team members participated and Pacific was defeated 5-0. They finished sixth at the Little League World Series, which was won by the U.S. South (Marietta, GA) with a victory over the Dominican Republic. 

In retrospect, it seems improbably that the “smallest” Little League could wind up in Williamsport and yet they accomplished what only a few their age ever attain. Opinions vary, but Paul Gee, the diminutive second baseman, put it succinctly: “We worked hard, but we just had a lot of fun.” Steve Dacong, who played sparingly as an 11 year old, thinks it was because “We all just got along. That’s why we went so far (in the tournament).”  

Star pitcher Pat Zalasky, who went on to play college ball at Sacramento City and Sac State (along with fellow teammate Mike Farmer) says, “Looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a lot of fun and felt real good.” 

The Pacific players, coaches and their families arrived home on Sunday seven hours late, but still received a large welcome party at Sacramento Metropolitan Airport. Leading the well-wishers was Dooley Bertolani, the pride of Pacific Little League.  

This Saturday, they will be remembered once again for their memorable All-Star season that was one for the ages. 

1983_PacificLL_Auto_Ball

 Pacific LL Team autographed ball.
(Courtesy of Shelley Kennedy Collection)

 

The 1983 Team will be honored Saturday, March 23, 2013
at Opening Day Ceremonies
Land Park Pacific Little League
2 San Mateo Drive
Sacramento, CA
Map and Directions

 SIDEBARS

Local Little League All-Star Tournament History

Only one other team from the greater Sacramento area has ever made it to Williamsport: Airport Little League in 1966. Like the team from Pacific, Airport relied on a 1-2 pitching duo in Zach Venegas and Dean Stotz.  

Airport won 11 games to get to the World Series. As the U.S. West representative they won their first game against Canada, 3-1. A team from Houston, Texas deflated their dream with a 4-0 defeat. Airport closed with a 6-0 shutout over Osaka, Japan to finish third in the tournament. 

Besides Pacific in 1983 and Airport in 1966 only two other teams from the area ever advanced to the Western Regionals in San Bernadino: Airport in 1999 and Town and Country Little League in 1958. 

In 1984--featuring four players from the '83 Williamsport squad--Pacific nearly made it back, as the Section 1 champion finished NorCal Divisional runner-up. 

Finally, in 1959 a team from Auburn, California advanced to the Little League World Series championship, finishing second to that year's champion, Hamtramck, Michigan.

1983 Pacific All-Star Roster 

First  

Last 

Age 

David 

Ayers 

12 

Richard 

Broshar 

12 

Stefan 

Cordova 

12 

Steve 

Dacong 

11 

David 

Degusta 

12 

Michael 

Farmer 

12 

James 

Foster 

11 

Aaron 

Fuller 

11 

Paul 

Gee 

12 

Craig 

Kamikawa 

12 

Jason 

Kennedy 

12 

Scott 

Perry 

11 

Patrick 

Wallace 

12 

Patrick 

Zalasky 

12 

Bob 

Foster 

Manager 

Ted 

Dacong 

Coach 

If anyone has personal memories of any of these Little League experiences, we encourage you to share them at our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BaseballSacramentocom/104087632956904 

Uploaded 03/17/13
Updated 03/18/13
All Contents © Rick Cabral 2013
(except where others hold photo copyright)
 

 

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