This is the second of 10 stories about the best Long Beach youth sports teams we’ve seen over the last decade. We’ve taken nominations from the community and will release the top 10 in no particular order. Come back next week to read about other club squads that made this historic list.
The 14U All-Stars from Long Beach PONY baseball at Whaley Park were on the brink of elimination for most of their tournament run to their 2012 World Series championship in Washington, Penn.
Long Beach was loaded with talent again that year with guys like Spencer Steer, Jacob Hughey, Maxx Cauble, Jack Williford and Will Semonsen. More than half of the roster went on to play baseball in college. Manager Scott Chamberlain recalls feeling the pressure to win it all from some of the other parents.
“We lost our second game of the Section Tournament in Los Alamitos, so we were in the losers bracket and one more loss away from being done,” Chamberlain said. “The next game (against Paramount) we were down by one run in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and nobody on base. What was I going to say? ‘Good job guys, you gave it your all.’ We hadn’t even played three games!”
When Riley Dent rolled a ground ball to first base, Chamberlain started walking out of the third base coach’s box to shake hands. However, the ball went between the first baseman’s legs like the famous Bill Buckner play. Will Semonsen came up next and hit the first pitch he saw into the right field corner for extra bases. Dent scored from first base to tie the game.
“I was so excited I was all the way down the line telling (Dent) to slide,” Chamberlain said. “The ball got by the catcher, he scores and I’m ecstatic. I turn around and (Semonsen) comes flying by me. I couldn’t stop him and he got tagged out.”
Long Beach scored in the first extra inning to survive and advance. They won their next game 19-3 and advanced to the Super-Region Tournament in Riverside and Whittier, where they were once again in the losers bracket.
“It was a wake-up call,” Steer said of the Paramount game, and Long Beach didn’t lose again that summer.
“We just battled to the end and ended up on top,” Hughey said. “It’s crazy to think how long ago it was because it’s such a vivid and ingrained memory. It doesn’t feel like it was eight years ago.”
Long Beach and Chamberlain gave themselves an advantage before the games even started by missing the pregame coin flip that decides which team is home and away. Chamberlain purposefully didn’t show up so that Long Beach would be visitors.
“We found a park nearby in Riverside that was a five minute drive to the field,” Chamberlain said. “We would take batting practice up to last minute so we’re warmed up and all sweaty. We’d jump in three vans and drive over playing loud rap music. Everybody was waiting like, ‘Where’s Long Beach?’ So we’d pull up to the field, the doors fly open, the boys pile out of the cars, run into the visitors’ dugout and we’re up to bat first. We’d grab our bats and just start killing it.”
“That was just a special group talent wise,” Steer said. “We had pitching but I feel like we just outhit everybody. It didn’t matter who was pitching for the other team, we knew we could score 10 runs off of him.”
Long Beach won three tournaments that summer by a combined score of 103-32 in 15 games. After taking the West Zone Tournament in Watsonville, Ca. they traveled across the country for five games at the PONY World Series. Long Beach ended up being on the road for almost a month and stayed in hotels for 21 nights. Steer and Hughey both said the team was and is extremely close off the field.
“The majority of us played travel ball together,” Hughey said. “It was just a group of best friends who went on a summer vacation together and also happened to play baseball.”
Long Beach remained resilient in wins over Mexico, Germany and Laredo, Texas, before facing Chinese-Taipai in the World Series championship game. The local boys were looking for revenge because Chinese-Taipai beat their 14U All-Stars in 2011, and Steer gave Long Beach an early lead with a grand slam.
Chinese-Taipai quickly came back to tie the game, but in the third inning defensive substitute Bryan Smith proved to be the difference. The Chinese-Taipai pitcher was starting to lose the control and Smith had a 3-1 count with a runner on base. Chamberlain rolled the dice and told him not to swing in order to draw the walk.
“As the pitch comes in I saw Brian load up and I took steps towards the plate like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’” Chamberlain said. “He swings and smashes a home run. I was jumping and yelling to the dugout ‘He missed the take sign! He missed the take sign!’ It was classic and we didn’t trail again. (Smith) put us up for good.”
Long Beach went on to win 9-7 and clinch the program’s fourth World Series title. The 14U All-Stars also won in 2008.
“I still get chills thinking about winning,” Hughey said. “It was such a cool moment to be playing against Chinese-Taipai and representing the United States, but representing Long Beach more than anything. That was the name we had on our chests.”
“That was a special moment for me because it was my mom’s birthday,” Steer said. “A couple weeks ago I asked her what’s her favorite birthday and she said when we won the World Series. Winning a world title — I haven’t come close to that since. To say you’re a world champ at anything is pretty cool.”
Chamberlain said he’s looking forward to a team reunion in two years. Hughey just finished his career with the Long Beach State Dirtbags and Steer was taken by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He’s currently a member of the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels, and has taken advantage of his summer at home by catching up with friends and family.
This certainly won’t be the only baseball team that makes our list of the Top 10 Long Beach Youth Sports Teams Of The Decade.