This NOT Just In: Kirkland Little League World Series
Across Lake Washington from Seattle is the city of Kirkland. With its waterfront setting and proximity to Microsoft, the tech boom of the past 20 years has brought money and sophistication to its once sleepy streets.
But back in the early 1980s, Kirkland hadn't changed much since World War II. The town still had a 1930s J.C. Penney department store, a Sears catalog outlet, a five–and–dime from the 1940s, and a poplar–lined Little League ball field called Everest Park.
On Saturday, August 28, 1982, sleepy Kirkland was about to wake up.
Announcer: "This American crowd is going bananas over Kirkland, Washington right now."
The Kirkland Nationals Little League team was made up of all-stars from Everest Park. They made the playoffs, and they won every game. They earned the right to play against a team from Taiwan in the Little League World Series Championship in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
But Taiwan was a Little League powerhouse. They'd won five championships in a row, and were favored to win it all again. As the first pitch was thrown, a record crowd of more than 36,000 jammed the ballpark in Pennsylvania. Back in Kirkland radios tuned in to follow the action.
Announcer: "A gorgeous afternoon in Williamsport, and right now the crowd is really into this ballgame."
Kirkland scored first, but the star of the game was Kirkland's pitcher Cody Webster. Webster threw strike after strike, and shut down the Taiwan team. With two innings to go, Kirkland was up 4–0. Then, Webster the pitcher came up to bat.
Announcer: "Cody Webster stands in to keep the dream alive. Here's the first pitch. Long fly ball! Home run to centerfield!"
Bill Swartz: "I've never seen him hit that one that far. That would have been clearing the poplars at Everest Park in Kirkland; that woulda been out of here."
Webster hit the ball farther than any other homerun in Little League World Series history. But Taiwan was known for its high–scoring comebacks. Webster the pitcher went back to work for the final inning.
Announcer: "Here comes the 2–2 pitch from Cody Webster. Strike three called! An era has ended! Kirkland is the new world champion of Little League Baseball! Taiwan has lost. Kirkland jumping all over each other!"
Taiwan lost, and Kirklanders went crazy. Horns honked and people cheered all over the suddenly not very quiet little town.
Tony Ventrella: "No it's not 1980, and this is not the US Olympic hockey team. This is the arrival of Kirkland National Little League All Stars, the best Little League Baseball team in the world."
The next day, a huge crowd of 40,000 people lined Lake Street for a hometown victory parade. It was one of the most memorable weekends in Kirkland history.
For months, the players were heroes and pre–Internet media darlings. There were articles in newspapers around the country, and coverage by Sports Illustrated and ABC's "Wide World of Sports." Like no other event before, the Little League World Championship put Kirkland on the not–yet–Google map.
Three decades later, downtown Kirkland is a different place. The tech boom has brought brew pubs, bistros and Brazilian wax to the lakefront town.
But kids still play baseball, and Everest Park looks pretty much like it did in 1982, except for those poplars beyond the outfield fence. Nowadays, they're quite a bit taller.
I'm Feliks Banel for This NOT Just In.
© Copyright 2012, KUOW
Special thanks to Bill Swartz of 710 ESPN Seattle (and of KGAA Kirkland in 1982) for sharing his recordings of the Kirkland Little League broadcast.
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