Saturday’s closing ceremonies at Malibu Bluffs Park signaled the end of Malibu Little League’s milestone season. First-place teams will now advance to the District 25 Tournament of Champions.
by Stephen Dorma/Special to The Malibu Times
John Paola exemplifies the spirit of Little League baseball. For 11 years the 67-year-old Simi Valley resident has volunteered his time at the Little League Café, located just south of the parking lot entrance at Bluffs Park. During the season, Paola sometimes works seven days a week serving hot dogs and sodas to young ballplayers and their parents. He doesn’t earn a dime for his duties, but he is rewarded nonetheless.
“These are the best people I’ve ever come across out here,” said Paola, a retiree since the age of 50 who speaks with an Italian accent. “The best kids, best people …very friendly. I look forward to seeing everyone. It’s nice. It’s like a vacation.”
During Malibu Little League’s closing ceremonies Saturday afternoon, no one received a louder applause for his efforts in helping make the league’s 50th season a success than did Paola. When league president Steve Ciniglio mentioned Paola’s name during his closing speech, the kids in attendance roared so loud, one would have thought Derek Jeter had just walked onto the field.
“So maybe I paid them a few bucks to do that,” Paola said. “No big deal, right?”
Paola is one of many parents, board members and city officials who helped make this season an all-around success for Malibu Little League, Ciniglio said.
“We had a lot of support this year,” said Ciniglio, who will retire as president after serving in the position for two years. “We had support from the city to revamp the field. We had the baseball diamond redone. There were also some nice donations from private enterprises.”
The league fielded 25 teams this year, with more than 300 local boys and girls competing in five different divisions-minor (8 and under), middle (ages 9-11) and major hardball (11-12), as well as minor and major softball.
The Dodgers took the top spot in the four-team major hardball division. In minor hardball, the Orioles and Braves beat out six other teams to split the division championship. While most teams are sponsored by local businesses, the Braves may have the coolest sponsor-the bulk of their funding coming from rock band Mötley Crüe.
In middle baseball, the A’s pulled off a stirring playoff rally, emerging from the losers bracket after round one and winning the division championship Friday afternoon with a victory over the Tigers.
“The kids are just so excited,” said A’s coach Kevin Slattery. “We had to win more playoff games than anybody and basically had to eliminate every team in middles to make it to the championship. The kids are on cloud nine right now.”
The Royals took home first-place honors in minor softball, while the Padres captured the top spot in the major division.
“We lost a lot of games, but when we got to the playoffs we started thinking more and did really well,” said Jordan White, a 12-year-old catcher/first basemen with the Padres. “It was so fun to win.”
Added White’s teammate, 11-year-old shortstop Lily Faver, “At first the team wasn’t so good, but then we got much better and won the championship.”
Top squads in each division will move on to take part in the Division 25 Tournament of Champions beginning this week.
Another team that had an exceptional year was the Juniors, a squad made up of girls 13 and over that plays teams located outside of Malibu. The Juniors posted a 14-1 overall record this season.
Following Saturday’s closing ceremonies and trophy presentations, hundreds of family and friends gathered on the outfield grass of one of the playing fields to watch “The Sandlot” on a 20-foot projector screen. To the south of the screen were home plate and a third-base line awash in chalk and dirt. To the north was the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
As he continued to cook hot dogs in preparation for a pre-screening feeding frenzy, Paola may have summed things up best, “It sure is a beautiful place for baseball.”