El Segundo Little League team wins World Series

The World Series champion El Segundo Little League team. Photo by Gregg McMullin/El Segundo Herald

by Mark McDermott 

It was the swing heard around the world. 

El Segundo’s Louis Lappe stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and final inning of the Little League World Series on Sunday night. He was up against Curaçao star pitcher Jay Dlynn-Wiel, a self-assured and extremely talented player who’d been outspoken in guaranteeing his team a championship. An inning earlier, El Segundo had lost its  5-1 lead to a grand slam. The game was still tied 5-5. 

Manager Danny Boehle pulled Lappe aside. 

“Look, here’s my guess,” Boehle told him. “They are going to walk you, right? But make them have to throw you a strike if they are not going to walk you.” 

It was a reasonable guess. Lappe, who at 12 already stands 6’1, had been the tournament’s biggest star. The previous night, Lappe homered and drove in 5 runs while also pitching and striking out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings in route to a 6-1 victory over Texas that won the national championship and propelled El Segundo into the international World Series championship. 

Sure enough, Dlynn-Wiel began with an out-of-the-zone curveball. Lappe took. In the dugout, Boehle suspected that was all his slugger would see — curveballs off the plate,  not an intentional walk but a strategy in which he’d see no pitches he could hit. 

But then the unexpected happened. Dylnn-Wiel threw a fastball right down the gut. Lappe lashed at the ball, and almost before it even left his bat everyone watching knew: it was a home run, rocketed over the left field fence. El Segundo had just won the World Series. 

“Right down the middle,” Boehle said, still in wonder three days later. “And obviously, history.” 

After the game, Boehle made a pronouncement to anyone who would listen, one that might not have made sense to the international or even the national media that had descended on the little town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which hosted the Little League World Series. “Baseball is back,” he said, “in El Segundo.” 

The World Series champion El Segundo Little League team. Photo by Gregg McMullin/El Segundo Herald

What he was referring to is the long, proud, and outsized legacy of baseball in El Segundo, specifically the dynasty at El Segundo High School presided over by John Stevenson, who served as manager for 50 years before passing away in 2010. Stevenson and his teams won 1,059 games and seven CIF championships and produced a handful of major league players, including Hall of Famer George Brett and All-Star pitcher Scott McGregor. 

“El Segundo was always feared for baseball,” Boehle said. “John Stevenson had teams that always had a lot of good players and won a lot of CIF and state titles. Well, recently, it just hasn’t been what it had been in the past. A lot of the players who should be coming here aren’t coming to school here.” 

A lot has changed in all youth sports, including baseball, since those days. Club sports, which in baseball are called “traveling teams” (and are why Lappe and Dlynn-Wiel knew each other well enough to have a rivalry), have helped fracture the formerly grassroots nature of players just playing in the towns where they are from. And schools and clubs everywhere have developed a “program” mentality with high-money facilities and specialized coaching. 

Boehle is a throwback. He’s an old-fashioned baseball guy who teaches fundamentals rigorously —  not just all the launch-angle and velocity analytics of modern game, but how to do the little things, like bunting. Fittingly, this quality is what attracted Lappe to the team. The rest of the squad had been playing together since they were 9, but Lappe just joined this year, in part because of the style of coaching. 

“Louis hasn’t played Little League baseball for probably five or six years,” he said. “His dad reached out to me, and we are super tight. He knows that I know how to coach. He said, ‘Look, if you coach him, he’ll play. If you don’t coach, he ain’t playing.’ It was a super high compliment to me, but at the same time, he wanted his kid to keep getting better not just that we get him because he’s talented. So we just coached Louis. We made him go back to the old days of how to footwork and how to field balls, the stuff that pros do every day still. Kids at 12, all they want to do is throw as fast as they can and hit home runs. No one’s interested in bunting, no one’s interested in hitting balls to the right side to advance runners —  you know, doing certain things that make the baseball team complete.” 

Boehle is also old school in other ways. 

“I don’t let our kids celebrate, I don’t let them dye their hair, I don’t let them wear eye black, or anything that puts targets on their backs,” he said. “I don’t believe in any of that stuff.” 

What El Segundo had was indeed a complete team. The LLWS rosters are small, limited to 12 players, so every player is an important cog. El Segundo’s road was made even more difficult by the fact that the team suffered the flu bug, so at any given point in the month-long journey to the final games, they were at less than full capacity. The team had another bonafide superstar at the top of the order in Brody Brooks, who was also a stellar pitcher; a sturdy catcher and team leader in Lucas Keldorf; another young six-foot power hitter, Jaxson Kalish; and a clutch pitcher and hitter, Max Baker (who became known at the World Series for his hat falling off repeatedly as he pitched, due to his mop of long hair, which his old school manager was perplexed to discover required hair drying daily in the team hotel rooms). All the players, including Lennon Salazar, Finley Green, Quinn Boehle (the manager’s son), Colby Lee, Declan McRoberts, Ollie Parks, and Crew O’Connor, were El Segundo All-Stars, and together formed a team that bested the 44,000 other Little League teams around the nation and world. 

They also had a guardian angel of a sort, although one famously grimed with pine tar. George Brett checked in with the team daily, often giving them pep talks via FaceTime. 

“I just wanted to let you guys know I’m really proud of you,” Brett told the team one day last week, as they approached the championship. “Breath. Just breath, and stay within yourself. And have fun —  it’s all about having fun at your age.” 

Boehle and Brett have known each other since the manager was 8 years old. He was thrilled to have the Hall of Famer along for the ride.  

“What it meant was, obviously, we were hearing from the guy who the field we play on is named after, George Brett Field,” Boehle said. “So guys understood, this is George Brett, and he’s telling guys how his Little League baseball experience was, and he’s telling you all about the pine tar bat and the Gold Gloves and the World Series —  he would show videos of all this stuff, and say, ‘Guys, I was just like you. I worked hard to get here, but I was just like you. You can do it. Keep dreaming.’ Those messages are priceless.” 

Sunday, after the swing that was heard around the world, Brett texted Boehle. 

“Oh my God, Danny Boehle,” he wrote. “I have tears in my eyes.” 

Mayor Drew Boyles said the victory was both extraordinary and somehow in keeping with the way things happen in El Segundo. From its major league franchise to its Fortune 500 companies to its outsized role in the history of space flight, El Segundo, Boyles said, always seems to be taking flight. 

“This Little League World Champion crowning means the world to us,” Boyles said. “This group of 12-year-olds, their coaches Danny, Eddie and Tim and their families are the epitome of El Segundo punching above its weight.”   ER 


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