Baseball-Rich Soil In East Long Beach
By Gina V. Ramsey
It is no secret that Long Beach has been a decades-long hotbed of baseball talent, with recent history being no exception. From youth to the high school ranks, there are many recent success stories from right here in the 908! Here are three:
East Long Beach PONY Baseball 9u All-Stars Make International Championship Game In 2019
Jesse Martinez is a long-time baseball coach in Long Beach. He has been coaching in the city for over 25 years, and has coached every age group, from the 5-year-olds all the way up to high school varsity level. Martinez obviously remembers many of the teams he’s coached over the past quarter century, but his 2019 9u All-Star team at East Long Beach (ELB) PONY baseball, located at Heartwell Park (corner of Woodruff and Carson), was extra special.
Along with assistant coaches Brian Brown and Mikey Giroux, the ELB 9u team embarked on a memorable run. Most of the players were returners from the previous year’s 8u All-Star team, which also made the championship game in San Jose. However, while the 8u PONY tournament remains a regional contest, at the 9u level, the PONY tournament goes international, greatly increasing the competition.
Martinez has many fond memories from that run, including tight games against Mexico and Hawaii, where his players were able to exchange hats with players from far away teams. Martinez believes that the team was so successful, in part, because all the players, and just as importantly their parents, bought into the coaches’ philosophy. In particular, the parents allowed the coaches to do their jobs with no interference, which can be a rarity in today’s youth sports scene.
The ELB 9u All-Stars made it all the way to the championship game of the international world series that year, but unfortunately came up short. Martinez is particularly looking forward to the upcoming 2022 season, as that special group of kids will be in their 12-year-old, and final, year at ELB. Hoping to return to the PONY World Series for another shot at glory, Martinez said, “I know it won’t be easy because baseball isn’t easy. That’s why it’s the best game in the world.”
Whaley Park 14u All-Stars Make International Championship Game in 2018
Current Millikan Senior Sam DeCarlo has certainly seen his share of baseball drama, having played baseball since he was 4 years old. When in 8th grade, DeCarlo had an experience playing for the Long Beach PONY baseball (Whaley Park) All-Stars that he will never forget.
Each year, PONY baseball holds their international world series for 14u All-Star teams in Washington, Pennsylvania. Just getting there is a battle, as the team had to face stiff competition at every turn, particularly in the super-regional and zone tournaments. DeCarlo played second base. One of his favorite moments came during the west zone tournament semifinal. Long Beach was facing elimination against the All-Stars from Maui, down by two runs in the top of the seventh inning, even after taking an early 8-1 lead. A home run by teammate Ryan Skjonsby helped propel the Long Beach team to a five-run inning, allowing them to take a three-run lead. Long Beach would go on to win that game, and also the tournament, and progress to the international World Series in Pennsylvania.
DeCarlo’s Long Beach team finished as runners-up that year, falling to Chinese Taipei in the championship game, 3-1. Despite the final outcome, DeCarlo says, “Our journey to Washington, Pennsylvania was something that I wish I could relive. The team was truly special - it was an experience that I will never forget! We all remain bonded over the experience of laying in the PONY World Series, which not many other teams get to share.”
The manager of that team was Ken Jakemer, who has been involved with Long Beach Pony Baseball since 2003, acting as president since 2010. Some of Jakemer’s fondest memories involved the team camaraderie. Jakemer says, “It was the character of the players and parents that made all of the difference. After we made a small roster adjustment, everything immediately clicked into place and we were a finely tuned team with all 14 players pulling on the same end of the rope, playing for the name on the front of their chest, instead of the name on the back. (With thanks to Tommy Lasorda).”
Millikan High School Wins CIF (III) Championship in 2021
Incoming senior Myles Patton has seen his share of drama on the diamond as well. He was a member of the aforementioned 2018 Long Beach PONY team and a teammate on both that team and the 2021 Millikan Rams with Sam DeCarlo.
This year, Patton was the ace pitcher on the Millikan team that won the CIF division three championship game right here in the friendly confines of Blair Field. As one might expect, Patton had many great memories all the way from Millikan’s very first game at Pacifica to the very last game winning a CIF championship. When forced to choose one, Patton said, “I think the whole team would agree it would be when our shortstop Daniel Murillo made an unbelievable over the shoulder running catch, then turned the double play on the runner who
couldn’t retreat in time. If he hadn’t made that play, our season would have been over. I think that is the moment when our team gained a level of confidence I’ve never seen any other team play with, and we just knew we were going to keep winning.”
Though Patton was the ace for the Millikan team, and is committed to Long Beach State, he remains a humble ballplayer, always looking to give credit to others. Patton says, “None of this would be possible without all four of our coaches: Coach Keester, Coach Gail, Coach Peters and Coach Slater. They live and breathe Millikan baseball and it’s so awesome to have four guys out there who care about their players and the program as much as they all do. They put in so much time and dedication to our program and I think everyone there is very thankful for them.”
Patton’s father, Walter Patton, was along for the ride and has a similar take on things. The elder Patton, a 19-year firefighter, is a big fan of Long Beach baseball. Patton said, “The community of Long Beach and it's sports programs are outstanding. They have given my family so many incredible experiences. We moved away to Temecula for a couple of years and found our way back to Long Beach. I feel like we owe this community something for all of the great experiences that it has given us. There's no place like it.”
There are undoubtedly many other similarly inspiring stories from the youth sports community, which is why local baseball, from the little guys to the big boys, is one of the reasons life is great in the 908!