They came to be known as “Los pequeños gigantes,” the little giants.
In baseball, a game full of real and imagined fairy tales from Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” to Bernard Malamud’s fable The Natural, no story may be more inspiring or surprising than the story of the 1957 Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico.
The team was composed of mostly poor kids from an industrial city who’d started playing baseball only a few years earlier, clearing rocks and glass from a dirt field and playing barefoot with a homemade ball and gloves. They’d only imagined Major League games, gathering around a radio for Sunday rebroadcasts in Spanish of Brooklyn Dodgers contests (Roy Campanella, the Dodgers’ catcher had played in Monterrey in 1942 and 1943, enchanting their parents). Even when they reached the Little League World Series, most of their opponents outweighed them by 35 or 40 pounds. But over four weeks and 13 games beginning in July, they were magical.
On August 23, 1957, behind the pitching wizardry of Angel Macias, they defeated La Mesa, California, 4-0, before 10,000 people in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to become the first team from outside the United States to win the Little League World Series. That day, Macias pitched what remains the only perfect game in a Little League World Series final, setting down all 18 batters in order – Little League games are only six innings, striking out 11 with pinpoint control, nasty breaking balls and sheer guile. La Mesa didn’t hit a ball to the outfield.
“I think the magnitude of the upset, to me, rivals, if not exceeds, when our U.S. hockey amateurs in 1980 beat the Red Army team at the Olympics,” says W. William Winokur, who penned a book and screenplay based on the team’s story. The movie, “The Perfect Game,” stars Jake T. Austin, Ryan Ochoa and Cheech Marin and opens in theaters this month.
The Monterrey team arrived in Williamsport after an unlikely road trip that started when the players crossed the border on foot, taking a bridge over the Rio Grande from Reynosa towards McAllen, Texas, hoping for rides to a small hotel before their first game of the championship tournament. Monterrey had been granted a Little League franchise with four teams only the year before. They expected to lose and return home.
“We didn’t even know Williamsport existed,” remembers Jose “Pepe” Maiz, a pitcher and outfielder on the team who now runs a Monterrey construction company and owns the Sultanes, a Mexican League baseball team. “We were just [supposed] to play a game in McAllen.”
They won their first game in McAllen 9-2 against a team from Mexico City filled with players who were the sons of Americans working south of the border. They swept through the rest of the regional and state tournaments, winning by at least five runs, until they reached the state semifinal game in Fort Worth against Houston. There, Maiz came on as a relief pitcher in extra innings to lead them to a 6-4 comeback win.