The celebration is on after the team from El Segundo defeated a squad from Curaçao in dramatic fashion to win the 2023 Little League Baseball World Series, Aug. 27 in in South Williamsport, Pa. Louis Lappe’s home run in the bottom of the sixth and final inning sealed the 6-5 win. (Courtesy Little League Baseball and Softball)


(Published Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023)

“Funnest week ever.”

That’s no hyberbole, especially given who’s making the claim.

The ping of his bat was still reverberating across Howard J. Lamade Stadium as Louis Lappe leapt into the air and the sell-out crowd erupted.

Thus began what has been a whirlwind of celebration, public appearances, interviews and lots of autograph-signing for the 12 boys from El Segundo who won this year’s Little League World Series title Sunday, in South Williamsport, Pa.

Their 6-5 victory over a superb team from Willemstad, Curaçao wascapped off with a stunning walk-off home run by Lappe, who led the tournament in practically every offensive category, including five homers.

“I was just looking for a good pitch,” Lappe told ABC after hitting the game. “My mentality was just get the next guy up and if we kept doing that, we would have won either way, but I’ll take the homer.”

Max Baker, left, and Louis Lappe basked in the spotlight with the rest of the team during pre-game festivities at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

The next day, the team – championship banner in tow – arrived at LAX after being away for nearly an entire month, including the regional rounds in San Bernardino that preceeded the journey to Williamsport.

The short drive to El Segundo, just a few minutes south of the airport, was unlike any they – or the town – have seen in recent memory.

Thousands of friends, neighbors and inspired fans lined Main Street through the heart of town to give the 12-year-olds a heroes’ welcome. Confetti flew. Signs and banners waved. The team and coaches, in a caravan of black SUVs, were given a police escort through the cheering throngs.

Louis Lappe and Dodger star Mookie Betts – who is four inches shorter than the 12-year-old. (JON SOOHOO/Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers)

One might call it V-ES Day.

“We’ve been on the road for a long time, and these boys are itching to come home and celebrate with their family here,” team manager Danny Boehle told reporters at LAX. “We just couldn’t be more happy with the outcome, and the way these guys represented the city of El Segundo, the state of California and the United States of America. It’s been an incredible journey. They finished the mission they started three years ago, and I love them all and I can’t wait to celebrate with our town.”

A official victory parade and celebration is set for next Sunday, Sept. 10, in El Segundo, in the center of town.

On Tuesday, the plaudits continued, as the team was honored on the field at Dodger Stadium, ahead of the evening’s game against Arizona.

“Hope to see you in the bigs!” came the support from one Dodger fan – strong encouragement, indeed, for players who come from the same neighborhood as current St. Louis Cardinals star Lars Nootbaar.

Louis Lappe and Dodger star Mookie Betts – who is four inches shorter than the 12-year-old. (JON SOOHOO/Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers)

Earlier in the day, the All-Stars spent some time with the Dodgers as they prepared for their game. Manager Dave Roberts gave the boys a pep talk, and centerfielder James

Outman greeted the youngsters with “What’s up, champions?”

Lappe, who stands 6-foot-1, received an autograph from Mookie Betts, who is only 5-9. “I’m taller than him, which is crazy,” he said.

The team is also set to be recognized on the field in Anaheim this coming Tuesday, before Shohei Ohtani and the Angels host the Baltimore Orioles.

Kathy Narahara, Lappe’s mother, missed out on the fun at Dodger Stadium, as she endured the lingering effects of a stomach virus that made the rounds among players, coaches and families during the tournament.

Thousands gave the champs a heroes’ welcome upon their return home Monday. “Even though I didn’t know more than half the people there, they all felt like our best friends,” Max Baker said. (Courtesy MICHAEL EARLEY PHOTOGRAPHY)

Her emotions nearly got the better of her as she tried to describe the experience of a lifetime for her son and her family.

“I’m still processing all of this,” Narahara said. “He’s a natural athlete, so he’s going to have fun and play well. With baseball, since he was a toddler and watching his brother, he was interested.”

She said for Louis and his father, Ted, baseball has provided invaluable bonding aside from the athletic skills that have developed.

“His father has been amazingly patient in working with him,” she explained. “With them, it’s just playing, truly quality time. At a certain point it became a little more work with focus and developing skills. It’s a natural progression of his dedication of honing his skills and his love for the game, so in that regard, it makes sense that he played well during the tournament.”

The Lappe family (from left), Kathy, Daniel, Ted and Louis, in Williamsport following the team’s win on Aug. 23. (Courtesy KATHY NARAHARA)

El Segundo pitcher-outfielder Max Baker played a pivotal role for the team in several ways. After the World Series was over, both he and Lappe were named to the All-Tournament team by the local Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Baker batted .500 for the series and made a game-saving catch in the U.S. final against Texas.

Perhaps one of the most lasting impressions Baker made centered less on his play, and had everything to do with his hair. His prodigious mane was so voluminous that his cap would fly off with each pitch he threw from the mound.

“That’s what happens when the kids choose their sizes without the parents around,” said Max’s mother, Kristin Iino Baker. “Apparently, he chose the larger hat size to accommodate his hair, and fortunately in that last game, it wasn’t falling off every pitch.

Loving every minute on the Dodger Stadium field Tuesday. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

“Some people were saying every time it fell off it was a strike, so we look at it positively,” she added.

Her parents, Tom and Barbara Iino, followed Max and the team every step of the way to the championship, making the trip to San Bernardino and Pennsylvania.

“They were along for the entire ride,” Kristin said.

Tom Iino is the founding chair of the U.S.-Japan Council as well as the former chairman of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center.

The final against Curaçao took a stunning turn in the fifth inning, when Nasir El-Ossais slugged a grand slam to tie the game, 5-5, and send the Carribean bench into euphoria.

Max Baker was the pitcher who gave up that home run. Most kids at age 12 would have taken a tremendous psychological hit at that point.

“He was completely calm, very cool,” said El Segundo assistant coach Eddie Lee. “He gathered himself, took a few breaths and struck out the next batter to keep us tied.”

Keeping the score even was the key to setting the stage for Lappe’s heroics.

“There was no way we thought it would be a walk-off home run, although I knew he would get on base,” Narahara recalled of those anxious minutes. “I had every confidence we would win, but we had no idea it would happen the way it did.

“Coach Boehl had this vision when the boys were 10 years old, and has really nurtured the dream these last few years. For it to end this way, it’s magic.”

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