A 35 year-old memory still makes the hairs on Brad Robinson’s arm stand up.
So the former Coquitlam Little League baseball player and current coach expects there will be plenty of chills when he and his teammates from the 1984 team that won a Canadian championship and went on to play in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., are honoured June 15 with a plaque installed at their home ballpark, Mackin Yard.
The passage of time hasn’t diminished the excitement a 12-year-old Robinson felt when the team’s bus pulled up to the famed stadium in Williamsport, aglow with lights in the August night. Or when they received telegrams of encouragement from hockey stars Wayne Gretzky. and Paul Coffey.
“O my god,” he said. “This is unbelievable.”
A teammate, Chad Hanson, said the experience of playing in the world famous tournament that, even back then, was broadcast live on network television, was “the closest I got to playing pro sports.”
In fact, Hanson’s experience even included an interview by one of television’s most famous broadcasters, the late Howard Cosell. Although the reason he suspects he was singled out for Cosell’s ABC microphone may not have been so illustrious.
Hanson said he caused a bit of a stir in his team’s first game of the tournament, against Belgium, when he fell for the ol’ hidden ball trick in which a baseman feigns throwing the ball back to the pitcher, then secrets it into his glove and waits for the runner to step off the bag so he can be tagged out.
Hanson said, despite his embarrassing gaffe, that magical summer, in which the team from Coquitlam first bested powerhouse teams from Whalley Little League and Windsor, Ont., to win the Canadian championship in Moose Jaw, Sask., then went on to finish fourth in Williamsport, still resonates.
“It gave you confidence to meet new people through sports,” he said.
A lot of those early connections were forged in barracks where all the kids from the eight teams were bunked through the course of the five-day event, eating their meals together, hanging out and playing between games.
“We were just kids,” Robinson said. “We were lucky enough to win some games and get there.”
While the team’s induction into Coquitlam’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 exposed their story to a new generation, Robinson said he tries to inform his approach to coaching his own Little League team with the lessons learned by his 12-year-old self.
“I definitely think it’s given me the experience to share with kids what can happen if you put the work in,” he said. “It just transfers over.”
Hanson said seeing how that team brought so many families together, including his dad who paraded around in a chicken suit as the team’s unofficial mascot, instilled in him a lifelong desire to share and give back through sport, which he still does as equipment manager for the Coquitlam Jr. Adanacs lacrosse team.
“It taught me to be the man I am today,” he said.
Though several players from the 1984 team have moved away, or will be unavailable to attend Saturday’s festivities, Robinson said most stay in contact, checking in through email or the occasional get-together. Their bond will endure, he said, especially as the 1984 team has so far been the only team from Coquitlam to ever get to Williamsport.
“It does make it special,” he said.
• The plaque honouring the 1984 team will be part of Coquitlam Little League’s Founders Day at Mackin Yard, which will include the Major AAA and AA finals as well as closing ceremonies. The event begins at 11 a.m.