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Life out there by Bret Kofford: The Pride of Imperial

July 18, 2001

SEELEY — Seeing tears of joy in the eyes of my buddy Victor Martinez on the front of the sports page of this newspaper Tuesday brought tears to my eyes.

Victor is a good kid and a good ballplayer from a good baseball family. The little guy, through moxie and a mix of curves, change-ups and a sneaky fastball, kept a fearsome Calexico squad mostly lunging and missing through six innings. In doing so Victor led little Imperial to the District 22 11-12-year-old Little League championship, a wonderful triumph over bigger leagues from bigger towns.

I have known Victor and his older brothers for years, but Victor and I became friends when he and my son played on the Imperial Little Leage all-star team together last year. What I kind of knew before but was confirmed during that all-star run is that Victor is an engaging kid who loves baseball and plays his heart out whenever he steps on the diamond.


Victor also likes to talk, so it was no surprise when I walked by him after the victory Tuesday night and Victor was giving an animated, detailed account of his pitching performance that night to an Imperial Valley Press reporter.

When the interviewer asked Victor whether he had been nervous, I interjected, "Victor doesn't get nervous." Victor, face stained by tears of triumph, smiled.

It has been decades since Imperial slew the Valley Little League giants, but those of us who have been associated with Imperial Little League for years were not surprised by this group's accomplishments. We knew this team of kids was talented and deep. We knew they were well-coached by veteran coaches including Alfred Moore and Angel Martinez, one of Victor's older brothers. We knew that some darn good ballplayers were left off the team. That's how talented it is.

For years Imperial Little League has been getting closer and closer to taking the Valley title. We had a good run at it last year, my son's last one in Little League, but after a good start in the tournament things fell apart. Still, I hadn't had my fill of Imperial Little League. This year I coached a team of 7- and 8-year-old Little Leaguers with a friend and later helped coach a team of 13- to 15-year-old Babe Ruth players. Coaching both these age levels for the first time, what I found was while the teen-agers have pimples, puberty and paramours, the 7-and 8-year-olds just have to pee.

But back to this year's Imperial Little League all-stars. Those of us who have been working with these kids for years knew this might be the big year and we knew it months, maybe even years ago. I coached two of the boys, Michael Nisperos and Valentin Gonzales, for two years and was well aware of what those two could do, most of it good and little of it because of my teaching.

When Imperial was trailing 1-0 in the sixth and final inning in the championship game, I said to my coaching buddy Alvaro Ortega, who has been coaching in Imperial for longer than I have, "Watch, Gabriel Item is going throw that skinny little body into a pitch and hit a home run and Imperial is going to win 2-1." Alvaro confirmed that just might happen. Then Gabriel Item threw his skinny little body into a pitch, hit a two-run home run and Imperial won 2-1.

Now this team moves to Spring Valley to take on San Diego teams. Don't be surprised if these kids do well. It is a special group, with good hitting, good pitching and most important of all, a lot of character and more than a few characters.

They may not make it to Williamsport, and they may not even make it out of San Diego, but they should know they have already made those of us who know them proud.

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