It’s been 10 years since a group of giddy kids from Elk Grove headed to Indiana to hit, run, throw and catch in a town they had neither heard of, nor could they spell – Vincennes.
The Laguna Youth Baseball 10-under baseball team departed the Midwest in the summer of 2007 as Cal Ripken World Series champions. The group flew back to San Francisco, a good part of it on Cloud 9, and was treated to a luxury bus ride home and a police escort down Laguna Boulevard as crowning heroes.
Two of the team stars, Hank LoForte and Nick Madrigal, still have a World Series on their minds. And they return to the Midwest to face each other Saturday for bigger stakes.
LoForte is the designated hitter for Cal State Fullerton, winner of two NCAA Regional tournaments this month, his surging club now bracing for national No. 1-ranked Oregon State in Omaha in a College World Series opener.
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OSU is paced by Madrigal, the Pacific-12 Conference Player of the Year who graced the cover of Baseball America this week as a first-team All-America shortstop.
In high school, LoForte and Madrigal became friendly if fierce program rivals, diminutive in size only. They towered with ability and work ethic, LoForte as a four-year starter at shortstop for Franklin High School and Madrigal a four-year anchor for the Elk Grove Thundering Herd at the same position.
“Wow, this brings back so many memories,” said Emmett Smith, who was a Laguna Youth Baseball assistant coach along with Kevin Burke under head coach Scott Abraham. “We got back from that championship, TV interviews, a great homecoming, the community behind us.
“And we’re still following Hank and Nick. Those two playing each other in another World Series all these years later, who would’ve thought? It’s a great story. We’ll all be watching Saturday.”
LoForte was a year younger than his 10-year-old teammates when their dog-piling joy graced the front page of the Vincennes Sun-Commercial. He was a left fielder with a big bat.
“He could really hit, just bomb,” Smith said. “And Nick was one of those kids who could play anywhere: shortstop, pitcher, catcher, second base, third base. He was that special. They’re both special. You could see it even then. You could just tell. And those guys just don’t know how to lose.”
Laguna beat Bakersfield twice to win its regional championship to advance to Indiana, where the team went 5-0 and clobbered North Carolina 13-2 in the finals.
Laguna still has alums in the college game. Smith’s son, Alex Smith, is an outfielder for Division III Capital University in Ohio. Brooks Day played this season for Cosumnes River College. Carlos Moseley played at Delta College. Matt Kelly is with Portland, and Ty Madrigal, Nick’s twin brother, is at Saint Mary’s.
Maronic and Raiders – Twenty retired Raiders players and 20 other retired athletes will be part of the Game-Changer Celebrity Golf Classic at Whitney Oaks in Rocklin on Saturday following Friday’s pairing party hosted by Charles Woodson Wines at Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln.
The event is hosted by the family of 17-year-old Toran Maronic of Bear River High School, who last summer suffered a brain injury from a fall in a seven-on-seven noncontact football scrimmage. He was initially deemed a long shot to fully recover but has since been cleared to pursue lacrosse and basketball again. He was the first patient enrolled in a groundbreaking scientific research on “second-impact syndrome” for high school athletes.
Maronic was a guest at Raiders training camp in Napa last summer. Proceeds of this weekend’s event will go to the research project. Ex-Raiders attending include Willie Brown, Daryle Lamonica and Jim Plunkett.
For information, contact Gary Zavoral at ZavoraG@