A Mexican underdog tale

Malibu resident William Winokur’s book “The Perfect Game,” tells the story of a group of young boys in Mexico who start a little league baseball team. The book is being made into a motion picture.

By Olivia Damavandi / Special to The Malibu Times

Anyone who has grown up in Malibu is reminded of the same thing each time while driving by Bluffs Park: little league baseball. Young adults who have just graduated college and who have entered the working world can still reminisce about the first day of the season and the little league parade. Children would meet in the parking lot of Malibu Sea Lion (the 1960s restaurant that preceded Duke’s), board trucks they had decorated with paint and adornments of their respective teams and drive down the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway while waving and honking at passersby in cars or on balconies until they arrived at Bluffs Park for the opening ceremonies. The teams would then cluster together on the same baseball diamond, creating a multihued rainbow of squads from the Atlanta Braves to the Oakland Athletics. The snack shack was packed, and everyone who was anyone had packs of green sour straws, Big League Chew bubblegum and a hot dog.

Such fond little league memories make those fortunate of calling them their own the perfect readers for Malibu resident William Winokur’s book, “The Perfect Game.” The novel is also being made into a film starring Clifton Collins Jr. and Malibu local Cheech Marin. The movie will be released next year.

The book, based on a true story, depicts the lives of a group of young boys growing up in the slums of Monterrey, Mexico, who are trying to escape the claws of hunger, poverty and ill-fated destiny. After listening to an effervescent radio broadcast of a Brooklyn Dodger game with their priest after a Sunday morning Mass, and after a coincidental encounter with Mexico City’s all-star baseball team, the boys, led by protagonist Angel Macias, become inspired to start their own little league team and develop the dream to one day dress up in actual uniforms and play “just one ‘real game'” in the United States.

It is Macias who discovers the children’s potential coach, a factory worker named Cesar Faz, by one day throwing an old baseball against a deteriorating shack, waking him and convincing him to partake in a game of catch. Growing up in Texas, Faz was a batboy for the Antonio Missions at age 12 and later worked for the St. Louis Browns. The initially reluctant coach agrees and in the year 1957, he and the young boys, each carrying nothing more than a change of underwear in a paper bag, find themselves in the first round of the Little League tournament in McAllen, Texas.

Though their American opponents average 35 pounds heavier and six inches taller than them, Macias and his team unknowingly take the first step of a life-changing journey, one of underdog defeating all odds.

Winokur, a native New Yorker who heard his first World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets in 1969 on a transistor radio, said his personal experience with baseball and his travels throughout Mexico inspired him to write “The Perfect Game.”

“It is a real event and such a beautiful, underdog tale,” Winokur said. “That, alone, was enough to inspire me as a story teller to tell it to the world. I played little league baseball when I was that [the boys’ in the story’s] age and it was a turning point in my confidence level as a young boy.”

Winokur continued to play baseball throughout high school. He said although having played it “allows me to get into the Zen of the book, it [the book] is about more than the game of baseball. What the kids have accomplished transcends the sport and the nationalities [of those playing it]. It’s a story about transcendence.”

His writing of “The Perfect Game” was preceded by extensive traveling throughout Mexico, where Winokur met family and friends of the original children in the story and visited the same cities they did.

“Given that it’s not 1957 anymore, I did research to best experience and understand how they [the children] felt,” Winokur said. “I went on the same journey as they did, went to all the cities they visited and tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a 12-year-old foreigner in a foreign land, playing baseball against American kids who each were basically raised on baseball and were giants compared to the Mexican kids.”

“The Perfect Game” is Winokur’s second book. His first, “Marathon,” was chosen as USA News’ best book of 2006.

“There is nobody who could not like this story,” Winokur said. “The themes are so universal. Americans respect underdogs who win. The kids are so endearing and pure, such truly wonderful kids.”

When asked what he has learned from writing the book, Winokur commented on the materialistic and ethical differences he has observed over the four years he devoted to the story.

“There so much doom and gloom in the world, and it really does feel like we as a society have lost our moral compass,” Winokur said. “And here are these kids who had a fraction-I mean an infinitesimally small fraction-of what we have materially and yet they had such a strong moral compass. That’s the thing that I took from the story that was so powerful: how those values, that we really hold dear, are sadly obscured with false aspirations.”

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