Cali kids get a taste of the ‘Original’

Bobby Gray of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., tries to evade Maracaibo, Venezuela, catcher Luis Rodriguez at Original. (KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette)

As the California and Venezuela players and coaches stood in center field at Original Field as people took photos, they started to joke around with one another, striking various poses and laughing with one another. They all leaned in and eventually fell over, as the managers jokingly pretended to leap on top of the pile for photos.

It was the type of moment that embodied what Friday was about. The final score yesterday morning didn’t matter at all.

It was the fact the teams were having fun at the birthplace of Little League that did.

Both California and Venezuela had representatives from the team announcing lineups, doing so and having fun by announcing nicknames – such as Garrett Strenger being introduced as “Stranger Danger” – or playing Latin music while Venezuela batters were coming up to bat.

After the game – a 9-8 crossover win by Cal­ifornia over Venezuela – members of both teams stood in center field for photos together with the sign behind them stating where they were: Carl E. Stotz Field.

The two teams took part in a crossover exhibition game at Original Field, the birthplace of Little League, where the Series was originally played until 1958.

It’s the same field that Angel Macias, a Little League Hall of Excellence enshrinee this year, threw a perfect game in the championship in 1957.

“Even as a kid I always wanted to play like a Latin America or a Japan or somebody like that and we got opportunity to not only play them, but play them on this field that has all the history and stuff going back to Monterrey, Mexico, and our kids know about that team too,” California manager C.J. Ankrum said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And for Original League, it’s a special moment not only for them, but for the kids from the Little League World Series to experience playing a game on sacred baseball grounds of the site where the tournament used to be played.

“It’s special for us. It means a little bit to us,” Original League Financial Secretary and Umpire in Chief Bill Fritz said.

“They can say they actually played on the birthplace of Little League Baseball being here. … It’s quite an experience for the kids. It’s enjoyable and the parents enjoy it. They come in here and say ‘we never even knew this place existed.'”

Original League hosted a crossover exhibition last year as well between Japan and Oregon.

The short fences at Original Field compared to Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums is something everyone at the game noticed at some point. Even a California parent pondered out loud how cool it would be to see a kid on Friday crush a home run over the dike that is just beyond the outfield fence.

While no one crushed one quite that far, there were four nice shots that cleared the field: two that landed halfway up the dike, one that landed just outside the center field fence and one ball that traveled about 50 feet past the left field fence.

“Little different with fences though. They hit shot in gap and you have to wait watching someone score from second to home because they pick it up and throw it all the way from the wall,” Ankrum said. “It’s pretty funny. It’s cool though.”

Ankrum said that this entire summer had been a godsend to experience what him and his players have.

And being able to play games not only at Lamade Stadium, but also at Original Field, was something he admitted hasn’t yet set in.

“I don’t think it’s going to set in until we get home because we’ve been gone for like five weeks and I guess our town is absolutely going nuts and we have all the support,” Ankrum said. “I think once we get back there and see how crazy people are about what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, it will settle in a lot more.”

Rancho Santa Margarita, California and Maracaibo, Venezuela are about 3,300 miles apart, speak two different languages and have different cultures.

But for one morning on Friday at Original Field, they got to share a bond together at the birthplace of Little League that they’ll be able to cherish forever.

And that means a lot more than the final score.