History Inspires History Making
By Jesse Caputo
William Winokur started his day on Sunday in South Williamsport with an innocent bet.
“He started explaining to us the story (of the Monterrey, Mexico team) in 1957,” Mexico Region pitcher Jesus Sauceda said of Winokur, an author. “A teammate asked him if one of us threw a perfect game, would he write a book or something, and he said, ‘yes.’”
It seemed like a safe enough bet. Until Sunday, only four perfect games had been thrown in the history of the Little League Baseball World Series, one of which occurred by Monterrey’s Angel Macias in 1957.
But not even two hours later, news reached Winokur, who was inside the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum signing copies of his book The Perfect Game.
Sauceda had just thrown a perfect game against Emilia, Italy, winners of the Europe Region, and had struck out every batter he faced in a four-inning game shortened by the mercy rule.
“For anyone who questions whether stories like these can inspire people forever, this is proof,” Winokur said. “There’s an event that happened 51 years ago, and I don’t know maybe it was running through his head, maybe it wasn’t.
“Certainly, the idea of some Mexican countryman had come and honored himself here must have been going through (Sauceda’s) head.”
Sunday, though, was only another chapter in the incredible tale of Mexican Little Leaguers coming to America and achieving the improbable. The team from 1957 Monterrey, Mexico club was the first-ever non-American team to play in the Little League World Series.
The 14 boys on that team came from a poverty-stricken part of Mexico, Winokur said. They lived in cardboard shacks without running water and electricity. By the age of 12, some were already working to help put food on the table. They had never even seen a professional baseball game.
“They were so poor, half the kids on this team had never worn a pair of shoes of any kind before their baseball cleats,” Winokur said. “They crossed the Rio Grande by foot and had hand-sown gloves.
“They have never seen grass before they got to McAllen, Texas. They played on a dirt field which they cleared the rocks off themselves.”
But four weeks later, those boys were on top of the world, visiting the White House and hanging out with Duke Snyder and Roy Campanella at Ebbets Field.
If you had stared those 12-year-olds in the eyes and told them they would come to America and win a single game, they’d have thought you were crazy, let alone the Little League World Series.
It would be the modern equivalent to the average person going out, buying a set of golf clubs and beating Tiger Woods in a month, on top of winning the Noble Peace Prize the same week, Winokur said.
Winokur traveled to Mexico and spoke with Jose “Pepe” Maiz, an outfielder on the 1957 Monterrey team, about writing a story to chronicle the team’s journey to becoming World Series champions. Winokur met with survivors of the ’57 team, and after several hours had secured permission and their blessing for his book, The Perfect Game.
“There are so many great sports stories in the world,” Winokur said. “Every year there are new sports legends created. I think the thing that inspired me most about this one was how far they came to get to where they got to.”
So Sunday before Mexico took the field against Europe, Winokur shared these tales with the team. He told the boys how Monterrey Industrial had crossed the border on foot and walked 12 miles to the game in McAllen.
He enlightened Sauceda and his teammates to the fact Monterrey had won the World Series with Angel Macias tossing a perfect game, despite being six to eight inches shorter and 35 to 40 pounds lighter than their American opponents.
He shared the story of Norberto Villarreal, the Monterrey catcher. Villarreal limped across the border, having stepped in a piece of broken glass on the field in Mexico and had to spend the first night in Texas in a hospital.
Villarreal convinced coach Cesar Faz to let him play the following day, despite the doctor’s recommendation. At the end of the game, Villarreal’s cleats had been soaked through with blood from his wound.
“I told them that’s when you really have a love of the game,” Winokur said. “When you’re willing to walk with your foot bleeding and play when you’re hurt. You don’t even play to win, you play just for the sake of the game.”
He spoke these words to a transfixed Mexico team, as the boys listened intently to stories they had never heard.
After the talk, Sauceda and his teammates were ready to step on the diamond. They felt they had something to prove – not only to themselves, but to the ones who came before them.
“If the players from 1957 could win the World Series and Angel Macias could throw the perfect game, then why can’t we if we have more than they had?” Sauceda said. “All of us were more motivated, and we started to pay more attention in the game and concentrate more”