This is the sixth 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.
Most of the teams already on this list are All-Star squads that have taken the best of the best of an age group and faced national competition. That’s not the story of the 2017 Long Beach Little League Brooklyn Dodgers, who finished their regular season 26-2-1 before winning the Tournament Of Champions. Their story is one of fundamental baseball and fun for the whole family.
“Everyone looked forward to going to the games,” coach Chris Pincherli said. “It was about being together and having fun. This is an age where they’re deciding if they still want to play baseball. That group of kids all played baseball that next year because they had performed at a level they never thought they could.”
Pincherli and team manager Greg Guy have coached together for five years, and made sure they drafted a deep squad in 2017 when Guy’s son, Shane, and Pincherli’s son, Tommy, developed into two of the best pitchers in LBLL.
“We knew we had a good team but we didn’t know we were going to be that good,” Guy said. “There were a couple really good draft picks that we made in the later rounds that (other teams) kind of missed on and they made the difference. We did our homework for that draft.”
LBLL plays at Stearns Park where the Minor B (ages 6-9) champion Dodgers dominated the local competition in 2017 despite only having one former All-Star on the roster. By the end of the year, there were six All-Stars on the 11-player roster.
While Tommy Pincherli and Shane Guy lead the way on the mound and behind the plate, the coaches made sure everyone contributed to the team. All but one player on the roster pitched.
“Everyone got a chance (to pitch) because we knew at one point we were going to need them,” Pincherli said. “You win games by making everyone better.”
That deep pitching staff came in handy when the Dodgers represented LBLL at the District 38 Tournament Of Champions hosted in Hawaiian Gardens. Tommy and Shane didn’t give up a hit in the first game of the TOC, but the Dodgers lost their second game to Lakewood Village.
Only their second loss of the season put the Dodgers’ backs against the wall in the double-elimination tournament. They couldn’t rely on Tommy or Shane to get them back on track because of strict Little League pitch count rules, so the rest of the team had to step up. Tommy, 13, can still vividly remember the end of that third game against the Cincinnati Reds.
“We were up going into the sixth inning and sending our fourth pitcher to the mound,” Tommy recalls. “He gave up some runs and ran out of pitches, so we had to bring in (Michael Thomson) who hadn’t really pitched… It was bases loaded and the tying run was on third. (Michael) threw a wild pitch and our catcher (Nico Bell) had to go to the backstop. (Michael) had no idea he had to cover home but (Nico) got the ball, dove back to home and tagged the runner out and we won the game! His dad was (not at that game) but he got to the game right as (Nico) made the play.”
Tommy gives some of the credit for that magical turn of events to a bucket his dad used for a chair.
“My dad had this old Sports Authority bucket and after our TOC loss he sat on it after the game to talk to us,” Tommy said. “It was the ‘Lucky Bucket’ because every game after that we won. It was just really cool.”
The Dodgers staved off elimination by winning five consecutive games in 10 days. They got revenge against Lakewood Village, and then beat undefeated West Long Beach twice, 10-0 and 4-2, to take home the crown.
“Games were every other day, it was June, it was hot and it was constant work,” Tommy said. “Even my teacher at Naples Elementary got interested in what we were doing.”
Tommy was also fantastic at the plate with a .700 batting average in the TOC, but the entire lineup produced. Ryan King and Matteo Lobo-Naso each hit three home runs.
“We were able to put together a team of young men who just exceeded expectations in every way,” Pincherli said. “It was so exciting seeing them come back and play through all of that adversity. That season our team batting average was over .400, and you get that by a lot of kids playing well.”
“We worked so hard for it, from the first practice to the last,” utility player Dylan Maxwell said. “It was a great season and I’m thankful it ended up the way it did.”
The families in the stands were also very thankful that their young baseball players had a chance to grow into the game while being successful.
“There were a lot of opportunities for kids to really shine and show their effort and that effort really produced results for the team,” Kristen Pincherli said. She has always kept the scorebook for her son Tommy’s teams, and said it really helps keep her in the game and connected with other parents while explaining pitch counts and other rules.
“It was just amazing,” she added. “Kids got developed in a way that helped our chemistry. It wasn’t just the same three kids doing everything. It really was a team effort, especially when we got to TOC. They all got engaged because they just lifted each other up.”
That chemistry was contagious and the Pincherlis said it was a joy to spend a season from January-June with those families.
“If you show up a little late (to a game) someone would fill you in so fast,” Dylan’s mom Stephanie Maxwell said. “Some of the parents would even bring fruits and vegetables from their gardens and pass them out at games. The parents laughed and had fun even when the games got really stressful. It was just all about the kids.”
Tommy, who is going to play Long Beach PONY baseball at Whaley Park next year, said he’ll always remember how it felt to be on a great team.
“It was mainly about our relationships with each other,” Tommy said. “We had a connection that no other team really had. We didn’t get down on each other.”