West Sacramento’s timeless Memorial Park takes center stage for Little League All-Stars
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
In Little League Baseball, the biggest stage one can reach is Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Major (11-12 year olds) World Series in late August.
Despite five baseball divisions, including a new Intermediate Division which will hold its inaugural World Series in Livermore this year, the marquee event is the annual world championship game at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in the birthplace of Little League Baseball.
ESPN brings its cameras, crews, and big-name announcers to join thousands of fans from all over the world to witness what has become a true spectacle in sports.
Through the years, the event has grown from a small regional tournament in 1947 to an international media extravaganza. The small Williamsport fields have grown into a huge sports complex that might be confused with a Major League Baseball spring training facility.
So, it is a bit ironic that the road to Williamsport goes through West Sacramento this year. The Section 4 Major All-Star Tournament runs through Friday, July 19 at historic Memorial Park, a throwback ballpark that much more resembles the field that Little League Baseball founder Carl Stotz created in a Williamsport lot for the neighborhood kids.
From the old-school dugouts, which are truly dugouts below field level, to the small central snack bar nestled between the league’s two baseball fields, West Sacramento Little League’s host field and facilities have not changed much since the property was first donated to the city to be used for Little League Baseball more than 50 years ago.
Memorial Park sits in the middle of a cozy neighborhood southwest of Interstate 80 and the city’s modern baseball gem, Raley Field. Hundred-year-old trees stretch toward the sky like an outfielder reaching over the fence to steal a home run, and provide ample shade for spectators to watch youngsters play our national pastime from metal bleachers on each baseline or from lawn chairs beyond the outfield fence.
“The park is definitely old school,” West Sacramento manager Adam Williams said. “You don’t find this anymore with the fields in the middle of a neighborhood.
“This isn’t a complex like you find elsewhere. There is just a vibe here that you can’t get anywhere else except for here in West Sac.”
That vibe is not lost on visiting teams, including those from leagues across the region that are accustomed to large complexes with baseball and softball fields grouped with soccer fields and indoor sports facilities.
Woodcreek manager Nick Rotteveel has coached and watched his two sons, including Majors all-star Greg Rotteveel, play at Memorial Park for years, and enjoys every opportunity to make the trip back in time to West Sacramento.
“I love this place,” the manager said. “You don’t see parks like this anymore. It is a perfect place to play. The park is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a beautiful place and they always run a wonderful tournament.”
Williams is one of the many West Sacramento faithful that have lived and breathed Little League baseball for years. In addition to managing his 12-year-old son, Tommy, through the different age groups, Adam’s wife, Lindsay, runs the snack bar, giving them a unique perspective of throwback youth baseball.
West Sacramento Little League is not only a throwback in terms of its fields, which are maintained by league volunteers, but also in its size. The league has roughly 400 kids, a stark contrast to the mammoth leagues that have up to 800 players, and feeds primarily to the one local high school, River City.
“We are unique because of our size,” West Sacramento Little League vice president Dawn Farrell said. “There is a lot of intergenerational stuff where kids and grandkids are playing on the same fields in the same park.”
The small-town feel of the league, along with the fact that no West Sac Major team has advanced past the sectional tournament since 2000, gives the locals a bit of an underdog role playing against the newer and bigger suburban leagues in the region.
That has not kept West Sacramento from challenging for sectional titles and a shot to play at the district, regional and international levels. This year’s group of 11- and 12-year-olds have been on the cusp of a section title during their Little League careers, and are among the favorites in this year’s field of Major teams.
West Sacramento opened tournament play with a strong showing, routing Arden 13-2 in four innings to set up a winner’s bracket showdown with nemesis Woodcreek. West Sac would fall to Woodcreek 9-5, but Williams was hopeful that the home field advantage could be a difference-maker in finally getting his kids to the next level — even if it means fighting its way back from the loser’s bracket.
When Williams found out that West Sacramento was going to host the Major All-Star Tournament for the first time in 13 years, the manager was ecstatic for his team, as well as the community.
“For the boys and the community to have the chance to do something that we have been so close to for the past few years right in our back yard, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “As a manager, this can’t get any better. What better way to finish with this group of kids than playing in their backyard.”
In addition to Woodcreek coming to the neighborhood ballpark, teams from Rocklin, Arden, and the Pocket area qualified for the postseason tournament. The winner will advance to the Division 2 Tournament, hosted by District 54 at Mahany Park in Roseville. That means a Woodcreek win in the sectionals would give Rotteveel and his team a home field advantage at the next level, albeit without the old school vibe.
But for one week, the attention is focused solely on West Sacramento. Farrell believes that the league and community were up to the challenge of hosting a first-class tournament and showing off the unique charm of West Sacramento and Memorial Park.
“There is a lot of civic pride in the league, and in the park,” she said. “This is a place where everyone knows your name and looks out for one another. We want that pride to show.”
Nothing could make Farrell, Williams, and West Sacramento prouder than to see their boys win a section banner on their home field. But they also know that the challenge of the competition will make any result sweet.
“To have the sections here, with this old vibe, the neighbors and boys that have been together forever, it’s like a dream come true,” Williams said.
And even small old school leagues can dream of the big time and bright lights of Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
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