Sacramento's last Little League World Series team holds 30-year reunion

03/24/2013 12:00 AM

04/19/2014 8:45 AM

The mayor of Long Beach puts the accomplishment on his résumé.

A local chef now prizes its rarity.

And a CalPERS worker cannot pass through August without recollecting it.

The "it" is the appearance of a Sacramento team at the Little League World Series.

It happened in August 1983, when 14 sixth- and seventh-graders from Sacramento's Pacific Little League – now the Land Park Pacific Little League – fought their way to the World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

On Saturday, 11 of the 14 players gathered to christen the 2013 Land Park Pacific Little League season-opening ceremonies at the Land Park-area Dooley Field baseball diamond.

The reunion was its own rarity – it is the first time that almost all the players had gathered since 1983.

All of the players are now in their 40s. Most are now raising families and working at well-established careers.

But though the careers differ greatly, the ex-players share one thing in common: They all speak wistfully about the summer of '83, the last time a Sacramento team made it to South Williamsport.

"You don't realize how big a thing that was until you look back," said Steve Dacong. Now 40 and a catering chef, Dacong was a bench player on the team, and played right field when tapped by coach Bob Foster.

"Thirty years have passed, but we are still friends – it's a camaraderie thing," said Dacong.

Patrick Zalasky, 41, was the starting pitcher the day the Sacramento Pacific All-Stars team made its World Series debut against a team from Stamford, Conn.

"You realize how close you were when you were younger, and how that continues, even though we don't see each other a lot," Zalasky said.

On Saturday, the players talked about their Little League experience the way GIs talk about intense battles.

"All the old stories – they start coming up again," said Zalasky, now a teacher at St. Mel Catholic School in Fair Oaks.

It's a story with a bittersweet ending. The team lost its first game 8-2. Back then all the games – from the divisional level on up – were single-elimination. Today, World Series play involves 16 teams, not the eight that competed in 1983, and pool play allows the chance to advance despite losing a game. In 1983, a team from East Marietta, Ga., won the championship.

Every time August rolls around, Sacramentan Paul Gee gets wistful and makes sure he finds a TV to watch the Little League World Series. Gee was a second baseman on the team.

A CalPERS worker, Gee is the only player who now has kids playing in the Land Park Pacific Little League, where he is also a coach.

It was Gee who came up with the idea of getting all the players together to celebrate the 30-year milestone. The idea got seeded when he came across Zalasky's name on the coaching roster of an Elk Grove team while researching travel baseball team options for his son.

Gee remembers the last game of the '83 season all too well.

"We were known for our defense, but I believe we made some errors that day," he said.

The game was a pitchers' duel until the fifth inning, when the Stamford team's offense broke loose.

"In Little League it's always one inning that will kill you," Gee said. "It was difficult losing that game. I remember a lot of us were crying after it was over."

Nonetheless, the season cannot be described with anything but superlatives. The team went 7-0 to reach the World Series.

"It was an improbable season, and a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," said coach Foster, 66, who called every pitch in that postseason.

Nowadays his calls are more of the administrative kind, in his role as mayor of Long Beach. But on Saturday he was just another Little Leaguer – with a red Pacific Little League All-Stars cap on his head.

In '83, as the team made it past regional play, Foster decided to call for two practices a day, despite parent protests.

"We worked hard on our pitching and our defense – and we kept winning," he said.

The extra discipline paid off. The team began mowing down competitors, beating a team from Alaska 14-0, and later a Wyoming team 10-0.

The team's 8-3 win against a team from Nevada to claim the West Region championship not only catapulted it into the rarified air of the Little League World Series, it also was the first regional title game televised on ESPN.

Although he has had deeper successes, like marriage and fatherhood, Foster says there was nothing like taking his team to South Williamsport. "It was such an accomplishment that I put it on my résumé," he said.

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.


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