Pacific Little League Commemorates
30th Anniversary of 1983 LL World Series
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.
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.
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
"Dooley" Bertolani Looking on from the bleachers at Pacific.
(Courtesy of LPPLL)
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.
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
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
With a win against
Willow Rancho and two more versus Florin, Pacific claimed the District 7 pennant for the second
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
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
At this point,
Sacramento reporters began to take notice of the potential Cinderella story in
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
The following day,
the 14 teams and 200 boys and their families enjoyed a rare day of rest by visiting Disneyland
and Space Mountain.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Fortunately at the
Little League World Series, teams continue to play on after being relegated to the Consolation
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
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.”
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.
they will be remembered once again for their memorable All-Star season that was one for the
Pacific LL Team autographed ball.
(Courtesy of Shelley Kennedy Collection)