Pow! Biff! Thwack! Boom! Zamboanga!
As batsmen go, the Little Leaguers from Zamboanga City in the Philippines are an explosive bunch. Last Saturday afternoon in Williamsport, Pa., in front of a crowd of 40,000 that included a former Little League second baseman by the name of Dan Quayle, the Filipinos knocked out 13 hits to beat Long Beach, Calif., 15-4 and win the 46th Little League World Series. "I hope we never have to face a better team," said Long Beach coach Jeff Burroughs, the 1974 American League MVP.
This summer's world series was different from the previous 45 in several respects. First, Little League officials switched from a single-elimination tournament to a round-robin format in which all eight teams played three games to determine which four would advance to the semifinals. Second, in order to squeeze in the extra games, the world series included night games for the first time. Finally, and oddest of all, there was no team from Taiwan.
Since first winning the series in 1969, the Taiwanese had been an overpowering presence, winning 15 of 23 Little League titles. But this summer the Far East was represented by Zamboanga City, the first Filipino team to play in the series. No one knew much about the Filipinos except that in the Far East regional in Guangdong, China, in July, they had scraped together five runs in the top of the sixth to beat Taiwan 6-5.
The Filipinos did not look all that impressive in the round-robin, losing to the Dominican Republic 8-1. The role of the heavy clearly belonged to the Dominican team, representing Latin America. In their three round-robin games the Dominicans batted around seven times, had a team batting average of .556 and out-scored their hapless opponents 61-1. "They looked like they had monster pitching, monster hitting," said Long Beach's manager Larry Lewis. "They looked unbeatable."
Zamboanga City carried a burden of heavy expectation. "At Barcelona the Philippines won only one medal, a bronze," said manager Rudy Lugay. "This team is important to our people."
Filipino-Americans came from as far away as Chicago and Washington, D.C., to cheer the team on. Last Thursday morning Zamboanga City received a fax from Filipino president Fidel Ramos. "Know that I and your countrymen will all be praying for your victory," he told the team. Gulp! And if that weren't pressure enough, Lilia Clemente, a Filipino businesswoman in New York City, promised the players a trip to Disneyland if they won the tournament.
Lugay went with his ace, 12-year-old lefty Roberto Placious, in the semifinal on Thursday afternoon. He pitched five perfect innings, while his teammates backed him with four runs. He even homered in the sixth. The Dominicans scored once in the bottom of the sixth, and Zamboanga City won 5-1. "Let's call it a major upset," said Lugay with a shrug. "They are very strong."
The other Thursday semifinal pitted Hamilton Square, N.J., against Long Beach. The Californians and their fans came armed with kazoos, good-luck trolls and pitcher-shortstop Sean Burroughs, son of Jeff. At 5'4", 130 pounds, Sean, who hit 35 homers in 50 games this season, is a miniature version of his father. "He's a pretty well-rounded kid," says his father. "And he's goofy, like all 11-year-olds."
Sean and Hamilton Square's Andy Famosa matched each other, scoreless inning for scoreless inning. With one out in the top of the sixth, Long Beach shortstop-pitcher Ryan Beaver caught a fastball and sliced it high toward the rightfield foul pole. "Please stay fair," he begged. It did—by about a foot—and Long Beach hung on to win 1-0.
On Saturday, Zamboanga City jumped on Ryan early and often and led 7-0 after an inning. When the game ended, the Filipinos tossed their gloves in the air, then gathered in front of their dugout. Standing shoulder to shoulder on the third base line, they doffed their caps and bowed to their cheering fans. "This is a matter of national pride," said one of the Filipino fans.
Roberto Placious and his teammates may not see it in quite those grandiose terms. On Saturday night, between mouthfuls of rice cakes and spicy chicken and papaya, Roberto posed for photos with beaming Filipino businessmen. He looked a little sheepish, but playing the part of a celebrity is a small price to pay. After all, he's going to Disneyland.