The Boys of Tuckahoe
Essayist Brooks Smith has rediscovered a glorious year when the Tuckahoe Little League won all the marbles.
Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond’s sports history, and today, Brooks, we are going to talk about the Tuckahoe Little League, and in particular one glorious season. But, first of all, let’s set the stage by talking about the history of the Tuckahoe Little League.
Smith: You bet. It was founded back in the 50’s. By the storied ’68 season it was one of 7200 Little League clubs around the world. Tuckahoe’s committed to sportsmanship, teamwork, courage, hardwork. And it has an incredibly proud history of exceptional athletes, including Jim Pankovitz, from the ’68 team, who went on to play in the major leagues, and also Justin Verlander, of more modern fame.
Well, that ’68 season that we mentioned had to be very special. Tell us about that.
Smith: Imagine being a parent of an aspiring 12-year-old baseball player who receives a letter on July 1, 1968, saying your boy is one of 27 selected to try out for the Tuckahoe Little League All-star team. Each of these 27 boys was given two weeks to practice, field a team, and then they were off to the races. The tournament started on July 17 and for about 30 days they were on the road, here, there and everywhere. First in the districts, then the state, then in the southern region, and eventually in the storied halls of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
And they got all the way to the final game and…
Smith: Well, this is single elimination play. So each game was special. But in the final game, alas, they went down to Japan, one to nothing.
Well, I understand there was an unusual catch made to end that game.
Skmith: There was, indeed. In baseball, I think, there is both skill and luck. In this case the catch was made by a Japanese right-fielder who just happened to be out of position but close enough to the ball to make the catch and win the game. I will say, along the way our team had a spectacular record. In the tournament leading up to the World Series they won eleven straight games: nine were shutouts, and these weren’t close games. Against Varina they won 17-0, against Lubbock, Texas, they won 10-0, and they had some spectacular athletes. Each of these kids has a story. But let me tell you one in particular: Roger Miller, who is one of the players from that team who sadly just passed away in February of this year. He threw nine no-hitters that season in 1968, including five in the tournament. And he wasn’t just a pitcher. He had a hot bat. And in the semifinal game against Quebec he singled-handedly hit three homers, he hit four hits, four runs and seven RBIs to lead the team to victory.
Wow. And they came home as heroes.
Smith: They were indeed returning heroes. On the way home they stopped at the White House and they were hosted by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. And then they came to Richmond and they had a tickertape parade down Broad St. from Willow Lawn into downtown. That evening the Richmond Braves hosted them for a special game at Parker Field, and in between there were very many visits with the governor, congressmen, senators, other dignitaries, and a lot of hometown fans who just loved seeing Tuckahoe make it all the way to the Little League World Series.
And, as you mentioned, they did really have some great young players who went on to further stardom.
Smith: And what’s amazing to me, many of them now still call Richmond home. And, having had the great pleasure of meeting with some of them, I can tell you that there is a keen sense of camaraderie among them, as well as many vivid recollections of that ’68 season. I also think there is a lingering sense of wonderment, that as 12-year-olds, who could have possibly have imagined what they were going to go on to do? It was simply one day at a time, trying to avoid single elimination, but it reminds me that we may be consumed by big league play and professional athletics. To me, though, the soul of baseball is the experience of fathers and sons and daughters and the kind of stories like the 1968 Tuckahoe Little League team.
Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond.