Along the way, their visas expired. Only intervention by the U.S. ambassador to Mexico kept them in the country. They were homesick; only Maiz had ever left Monterrey. They often didn’t have money for food, settling for two meals a day. They ate through the kindness of strangers and new friends, who offered them meals in a restaurant or gave them a few dollars after a victory, Maiz says.
Despite the challenges, they kept winning, 11-2 in the Texas state championship, and then 13-0 over Biloxi, Mississippi, and 3-0 over Owensboro, Kentucky, in the Southern Regional Championship, earning the 14 players a bus ride to Williamsport.
Teams from Canada and Mexico had made it to the Little League World Series before, but they’d never won. International competition was still so new that the Monterrey team played in the Texas state tournament and advanced through the U.S. South region.
Little League officials in Williamsport gave them new uniforms with “South” across the chest, emblematic of their regional championship. None of them fit; the Monterrey boys were too small. They averaged 4 feet 11 inches and 92 pounds while the La Mesa team averaged 5 feet 4 inches,and 127 pounds. After he watched La Mesa handily defeat Escanaba, Michigan, in the semifinal, Maiz was worried. Joe McKirahan, La Mesa’s star southpaw pitched a one-hitter and socked two homers, one a towering drive to right field.
“I say to myself, ‘Wow, what will happen to us tomorrow?’ “ he recalls.
Angel Macias, number 8, was 5 feet and 88 pounds, a rare ambidextrous player. This day, he decided to throw only right-handed. Lew Riley, his opponent on the mound, led off for La Mesa, drilling the first pitch down the first base line. “It was just foul by an inch,” recalls Riley, who now lives in Yorba Linda, California. “That was as close as we’d come to a hit.”
McKirahan, who batted cleanup for La Mesa and was later signed by the Boston Red Sox, struck out both times against Macias. “My recollection of Angel during the game was he was sneaky fast,” he says. “He was the first pitcher we saw who clearly had pinpoint control. Even at 12 [years old], you sensed this kid knew exactly where the ball was going. He just dominated us like no one else had come even close to.”
Richard Gowins, an outfielder, didn’t get in the game for La Mesa, but he watched Macias plow down one batter after another from his spot as first base coach. As the game went on, the crowd shifted, backing the boys from south of the border. “They were fast. They were upbeat. They just had a spirit about them,” he says.