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50 years since the last Williamsport team to compete in World Series

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Newberry’s chartered bus was just about to pass Danville coming back from the Eastern Regional championship game at Bellevue, New Jersey, in which Newberry defeated Smithtown, New York, 8-4, to win the region.

Some of Newberry’s players were probably asleep, others were probably just staring out the window waiting to get back home, staring aimlessly at the houses and signs they passed on the highway. But that’s when the bus driver noticed red and blue police siren lights behind him and quickly pulled over to the side of the road.

The Pennsylvania state trooper got on the bus and instead of asking the driver for his license and registration, the trooper got on board and looked back at the team.

“I just wanted to be the first to congratulate the team,” the trooper said. “I’m supposed to give you a police escort to the field.”

So from Danville back to Williamsport, Newberry’s bus got a police escort and that’s when the team saw a sight they weren’t expecting. From Allenwood to Newberry, the players looked out and saw cars lining the road cheering them on. And once they were back at the field, the sight was even more exciting. Hundreds of Newberry fans from the Williamsport and surrounding area were standing on Newberry’s field with flood lights on, cheering and hollering as Newberry’s bus pulled in and the players got off.

“We got off the bus and people were just mobbing us. It was crazy. They put us out onto the field to kind of get away from the crowd and set up a microphone and we all said a few words,” former Newberry pitcher and shortstop Steve Karney said. “I think we were there about an hour, hour and a half at ceremony. I lived about three blocks away and when I got home, there was a crowd of people at my house. I had to sit at the table. I signed autographs and talked to people. I don’t think I slept until 3 in the morning. It was a pretty wild time.”

That night was surely a wild time and that summer was even wilder for those 15 kids from Newberry.

That summer in 1969 is one the Williamsport area won’t forget as Newberry made history that summer, becoming the first — and to date only — Williamsport team since the Series expanded in 1949 to get to the Little League World Series.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of that team achieving baseball greatness by reaching the Little League World Series, and even five decades later, the memories are still fresh in the players’ heads.

None of the players really thought that getting to the World Series was a possibility until they got to the regional tournament. At no point in districts, sectionals or even states did the players think they had a truly special team capable of doing it. For Karney, all he wanted to do was win enough games to have a few overnight trips in other tournaments and get out of town.

“I can remember sitting in bleachers before our first practice and said ‘lets win enough games so we get out of town for a night or two,” Karney said.

And that’s precisely what happened. Newberry kept winning that summer, beating Montoursville at Lamade Stadium to win the district championship, then winning the sectional championship at Lamade Stadium as well before going out to play in the state championship.

After winning that tournament, that’s when Newberry got its chartered bus. It was at that moment the team was told that if they didn’t win the regional, they would have to share the bus back with whoever did win.

“Two of our guys said ‘we aren’t sharing that bus, we’re coming back as champs,'” Karney remembered.

Newberry was scheduled originally to open the series with a game against California on Monday, but a thunderstorm swept through the area, forcing the game to get postponed until 9 a.m. the following morning.

“The biggest problem for us was getting up at 9 o’ clock, especially some of the bigger guys at that ages. Gets a little longer to get mobile,” former Newberry right fielder Scott Peterson said with a laugh.

“That was kind of a let down,” Karney said. “If we could have played on that Monday night, who knows. We just didn’t have it next morning. Guy threw a no-hitter at us. You can’t win a game if you can’t hit. Donnie (Cohick) pitched a good game, well enough to win, but we couldn’t hit them and we didn’t have it. It was a big let down when we lost.”

After losing that opening game to California, 2-0, Newberry went on to defeat Germany, 4-1, in the consolation bracket and defeated Puerto Rico, 2-1. But to former second basemen Joe Saboski, those other two games are a blur in his memory. That loss to California still stings, even 50 years later.

“It was very disappointing and to be honest, I don’t even remember the other two games we played after that,” Saboski said. “I know we won, but I couldn’t tell you who we played or even what the score was.”

Being 11- and 12-year-old kids, the magnitude of accomplishments sometimes doesn’t register immediately, and that was the case in 1969. After that run, it took years, even decades, later for the players to really put into retrospect what they accomplished that summer and just how hard it is to get to the World Series.

And every August now, those memories come flooding back.

“About every year at Little League time, to this day 50 years later, when that comes into play, it just brings back memories,” Peterson said. “It’s something you’ll never forget. That’s the way I feel about it.”

“It was a lot of fun and a lot of good times with the guys. It was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience when I look back on it now,” former Newberry catcher Mike Prowant said. “It means more now than it did then. You’re just a kid playing baseball games.”

For Rusty Sechler, it was that 20th anniversary in 1989 when he realized what it meant to get to the World Series.

“By the time I put our 20th anniversary together, I realized the significance of what we were able to accomplish because we were the only Williamsport team to actually play in the Little League World Series,” Sechler said, noting how the tournament didn’t become the Little League World Series until 1949. “It’s funny because even then, it was a big to-do with the adults. … By the time our 20th rolled around, I realized what the hoopla was about. You just don’t have the opportunity to be in that position too often.”

As is the case now, back then players had to stay at the Grove. That included the Newberry team despite living just across the river while many teams come from hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

“We were spending a lot of time together,” Sechler said. “We even bonded a little more during the Series because we were confined with each other 24/7. There were all the activities to do, ping pong with Taiwanese players. They always wanted to play ping pong with us, and swim in the pool. It was kind of neat. It was kind of a bonus I guess to be able to just be together and not think of anything else but baseball.”

Glancing around teams in the district or sectional tournaments this year, you’ll notice a few with nice embroidered jerseys for their all-star teams, and every team has a matching all-star uniform every player wears. That summer in 1969, you wouldn’t have guessed Newberry was an all-star team.

Rather, the team looked like a few kids getting together for a sandlot game because that summer, Newberry didn’t have its own special all-star team uniform. On that field 50 years ago, you would have seen six different colored uniforms from various regular-season teams the players were wearing. Newberry only had one matching item: Their hats.

When the team got to the state tournament, they saw all the teams they were playing against with matching uniforms and instead, Newberry was wearing their various regular-season uniforms.

“It felt like the Bad News Bears. ‘Where are these guys coming from?’ And we got on field, they found out who we were,” Peterson said. “That’s one thing I always tell everybody because it’s kind of funny. We didn’t know. We didn’t have a team uniform. We had our team uniforms (from regular season) and came together to play.”

It didn’t matter though, all the players cared about that summer was playing baseball games. They didn’t have visions of winning the Little League World Series championship when they played their first district game. They just wanted to keep playing for as long as they could together that summer and it just so happened they ended up at Lamade Stadium at the Series.

For Peterson, when asked what he remembered that summer, all he said was “everything.”

“It was a lifetime experience. Every week you’re traveling to a different city and playing, meeting different people and, in a way, it’s a lifetime dream when you play baseball,” Peterson said. “It’s the Olympics, except it’s Little League. It’d be the same thing. You work hard, played and always dreamed about playing in the Little League World Series and one day, there we are. We’re playing in it.”

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