Approximately 86.4 miles southwest of Dooley Field, in the Land Park area, lies the 2012 MLB World Series trophy, cherished and displayed at the home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park. On Saturday, a smaller, but much more personal trophy was on display in Sacramento, as the members of the 1983 Sacramento Pacific Little League’s World Series team gathered in honor of the 30th anniversary of their championship season.
Hundreds of wide-eyed young ballplayers helped to celebrate the team that brought national recognition to the Land Park Little League as the former teammates reunited at Dooley Field during Land Park Pacific Little League’s opening day. Though a generation removed from the Little League field, each member of the 1983 Sacramento Pacific All-Stars found strong connections again, walking the well-known basepaths. For each player, there were familiar faces, and a new audience to hear the amazing story of their baseball journey to Williamsport.
The 14 players were selected as the best of the league’s players, entering tournaments with youthful energy, and leaving with victories and smiles. They were undefeated in tournament play until they’d reached the division level. The tight-knit group was pulled together by Manager Bob Foster, who because like family to many of them through the rigors of their tournament travels. Foster, a long-time Pacific League coach, was joined by Ted Dacong to assemble and train a group to represent our area.
Foster and Dacong melded ten 12-year olds and four 11-year olds, who’d played on opposing teams all season, into cohesive team. Two-a-day practices, much more intense than the boys had been used to, prepared them for the challenges that lay ahead. Adults were used as baserunners, getting the boys used to faster opponents, and helping to sharpen their defensive skills.
The Pacific All-Stars made themselves known as they won their first District 7 tournament game 23-14. Their power was matched only by their stingy defense as well a no-hit pitching by 12-year-old Pat Zalasky. Victories in tournaments throughout Northern California led them to the Western Regionals where a series of thrilling games brought them to an 8-3 victory over Green Valley. The Sacramento teams of unknowns had won the Western Regional Championship and were bound for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Last year, Paul Gee was looking for a baseball league for his 9-year old. While he was searching for a contact, he happened to find Pat Zalasky, his former teammate. When they both realized that the 30th Anniversary of their team’s World Series journey was coming up in 2013, they decided to organize a reunion. The current incarnation of the league, Land Park Pacific, readily agreed to help honor them at the Opening Day Ceremonies on March 23. From there, Gee and Zalasky resourcefully combed social media to find the widespread members of their team. One member, David Degusta, was in Africa, while the rest of the players were in Sacramento, the Bay Area, or Southern California. Their manager, Bob Foster, continued his leadership role moving from Little League team manager to become the current mayor of Long Beach.
Land Park Pacific’s Opening Day has always had a synergy old traditions and new. This year, the addition of the 1983 Pacific All-Stars Little League Team added a special dimension to the festivities while hundreds of young players celebrated the start of their season.
Dozens of customized decorated trucks carried the youthful softball and baseball players drove the path through William Land Park amidst cheering family member and supports. The Opening Day Parade was lead this year by what every Little Leaguer dreams of bringing home, a championship trophy.
Walt Gray, of radio station 96.9, The Eagle, who revealed that he was also coaching one of the LPPLL’s teams, hosted the ceremonies. The teams eagerly took the field for the first time this season, ready to get into action. The 1983 Pacific All-Star team was then introduced to a chorus of cheers. Custom commemorative tee shirts were presented the 11 players who’d made the journey back to their home field. After a prayer led by Father Dan Looney of Holy Spirit, where the Dooley Field diamonds were built, the Little League Pledge was recited by members from each team.
Fittingly, Pat Zalasky, with young Zac Enos as his catcher, tossed the first pitch of the 2013 season. It was time to “Play Ball!” and Little League caps soared as cheering LPPLL players tossed them high into the air.
When asked his reaction to the huge community response and to seeing his former Little League teammates together again, organizer Paul Gee responded, “I had a great time catching up with the guys. 30 years later and I’m still learning new things about our journey…different perspectives from the other guys, as well as their parents.”
After the parade and recognition ceremony, Paul reflected, “It was great and I wish I had more time with them.” Smiling, he thought aloud, “Hopefully we can get together more often. I can’t speak for them, but they were all thankful that Zalasky and I were able to get this thing put together.”
For a short time, the 1983 team was back where it all began, at home, in Sacramento, in Land Park, at Dooley Field, at home plate.
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