Jeremy Hess was not a happy camper. It was the bottom of the sixth inning, the score was 2-2, the bases were loaded, there were two outs, and Hess's Long Beach, Calif., teammates were poised to win the Little League World Series without him. "I was really mad that I hadn't gotten to play," said Jeremy, a 12-year-old in-fielder who had gone 1 for 6 in the four games leading up to last Saturday's championship against Panama in Williamsport, Pa. "I mean, I knew it was my last Little League game. I wanted to get a chance."
He got it after Panama's Abel Navarro came on in relief with one out in the sixth and struck out the first batter he faced by throwing nothing but high fastballs. Long Beach manager Larry Lewis then summoned the last player on his bench to pinch-hit. "Jeremy's a dead fastball hitter," Lewis said later. "He was the right guy at the right time."
On the second pitch Jeremy hammered a fastball to the base of the wall in right centerfield for a game-ending single. The hit gave Long Beach its second consecutive World Series crown—and its first won on the diamond. Last year Long Beach lost the title game to Zamboanga City of the Philippines only to be declared the Series winner two weeks later when Zamboanga City was stripped of the championship for having used several ineligible players.
"It was a dream come true," said Jeremy. "I was real nervous because I knew the whole team was counting on me."
Until then, Long Beach had relied most heavily on Sean Burroughs, a 12-year-old Bambino and the son of former major leaguer Jeff Burroughs, who was on hand as the Long Beach coach. Sean had pitched his second 16-strikeout no-hitter of the tournament last Thursday while going 4 for 5 with two home runs as Long Beach eliminated Bedford, N.H., 11-0 and advanced to the championship game.
At 5'5" and a hefty 171 pounds, Sean dominated the scaled-down Little League landscape, with its 60-foot baselines and 204-foot outfield dimensions. "He's a lot bigger and stronger than I was when I was his age," says Jeff, a beefy former American League MVP who hit 240 home runs during a 16-year major league career.
Little League rules prohibit pitchers from throwing in back-to-back games, so Sean played shortstop on Saturday. Given a steady diet of breaking balls in the dirt, Sean grounded out and walked twice but still hit .562 for the Series.
In the wake of the Zamboanga City debacle, Little League officials had closely scrutinized teams that qualified for this year's tournament. As a result clubs from the Dominican Republic, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan were barred from participating in last week's event because of eligibility violations.
That made for a more competitive World Series, not to mention a much easier one for the U.S. representative in the title game to win—a rare occurrence over the past 20 years. ""Little League should be commended for giving us a level playing field this year." said Lewis.
The drama of the final left Lewis dripping with sweat late Saturday afternoon. By contrast Jeremy was as cool as a cucumber. "The kid who was up before me struck out and started crying," he said. "I just didn't want that to happen."
Not a chance.