With the traveling circus known as the All-Star Game having exited stage right, we turn our focus to the important players.
Two area Little League All-Star teams are alive, and considering the ASG prices charged at Petco Park, their games are a supreme bargain.
Even when they are free.
“There’s always lots of excitement and the games are unpredictable,’’ said Alfredo Vega, Vista National’s Little League coach.
Vista National has yet to pack away its cleats. It joins another local squad, the always-dangerous Encinitas Little League, in this week’s Section 6 tournament.
The event, hosted by Vista National, is a double-elimination, nail-biting beauty which will provide chills and thrills.
Vista National Little League advanced after a walk-off win to beat Poway for the District 70 crown. Encinitas arrives after disposing of Encinitas National Little League in becoming just the third team in District 31 history to win three consecutive titles.
“Anything can happen in these games and it usually does,’’ said Vega, finally exhaling after Joe Schilling’s game-winning home run on his 13th birthday.
While “Jo-Jo’s” dinger to eliminate Vista American will long be remembered, Vega likes his squad’s balance.
“I think we got a good mix of good pitching and we got a pretty solid lineup, from Nos. 1-9,’’ he said. “I’m really excited about what we can do and I can’t wait until Saturday.’’
VNLL, which lost in the District 70 finals the past two years, plays Point Loma in its opener at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“It was pretty awesome to finally win,’’ Vega said. “It’s pretty much the same group of kids that have been together since they were 10 years old. We were in the driver’s seat the past two years and didn’t get it done. So it was nice not to let that last time get away.’’
No matter what Vega is driving, he’s sure righty Shane Vass is riding along. Vass threw a two-hitter in VNLL’s District 70 championship game.
The Encinitas Little League vase is usually filled with poinsettias, and lately it’s been the roses that go to the winners. ELL has been the dominant squad in North County lately, falling but one game shy of the Western Region title contest two years ago in San Bernardino.
“Our team is a testament to the coaches that came before us, guys like Trey Brown and Chaz Gagne,’’ said ELL manager Gary Pederson. “They kind of started a tradition and the kids have carried it over.
“But without the support of the parents, coaches and board, we would be the same as everyone else.’’
The ELL’s players are familiar with each other. Pederson said 11 of the 14 team members have pointed to this summer since they were 8 years old.
San Carlos is up first for ELL, a high noon Saturday showdown in this high-stakes tournament, which could run through Wednesday.
Win or lose, this has been no bummer of a summer for these boys.
“They’ve have already had quite an accomplishment because the district tournaments are so hard,’’ Pederson said. “There are some real good teams in our districts.’’
But you know kids and they want more, more, more. Each team longs to keep playing and to keep their Little League World Series dreams alive.
While the big-boy All-Stars are gone, there’s no time for a summer nap. Not with Little Leaguers with oversized aspirations still playing ball.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports