Home plate umpire Mario Garrido observes a play at the plate during the 1989 Little League World Series Championship game. (Photo Courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball)

If it’s David versus Goliath stories you are looking for, you need to go no further than the 1989 Little League World Series championship game between Taiwan and Trumbull, Conn.

And why not?

Taiwan had won 13 of its last 14 championship game appearances. That included its three most recent title appearances by scores of 12-0, 21-1 and 10-0. In fact, Taiwan rolled up such an impressive World Series record from 1972-74, outscoring opponents, 112-2, that Little League Baseball finally had enough and banned all non-U.S. teams from competing.

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The fact that Taiwan won championship games from 1971-74 by a combined 42-4 score hastened the decision. Travel costs and nationalism were the reasons given. But it didn’t take a genius to connect the dots for the actual reasons for the ban. To its credit, Little League Baseball rescinded the ban a year later.

In December 1975, Little League came up with a solution: one bracket for international teams and one bracket for U.S. teams. The thinking was with that formula, the U.S. winner would at least have a shot at the world title.

That brings us to the championship game on Aug. 26, 1989, which can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

It was the 50th anniversary of Little League Baseball, and clear, sunny skies greeted a crowd estimated at over 40,000 jammed into Howard J. Lamade Stadium and the legendary hill beyond the outfield.

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The umpires selected for this game were Mario Garrido (HP); Benito Van Der Biezen (1B); Betty Speziale (2B); Russ Sherwood (3B); Jerry Francour (LF); and Dwayne Tuggle (RF). Trailblazing pioneer Speziale — whom fans, coaches and players grew to love for her signature pigtails, became the first female umpire in Little League World Series history. Speziale also umpired the 1982 Little League Softball World Series.

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She appeared on ABC prior to the game and she was asked if the rest of the umpiring crew had been supportive.

“They sure have,” the 15-year umpire veteran said. “They’ve been real good. It makes you feel a lot more comfortable when you have guys out there supporting everything you do. And they’ve been great and I thank them all for sticking behind me.”

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Prior to the series, Umpire-in-Chief Frank Rizzo met with the umpires and delivered a simple message: no showboating and maintain control of the game. Rizzo also cautioned the umpires to stay focused, and no gazing into the stands. He also had some words for Garrido.

“We don’t want a walkathon out here,” Garrido recalled Rizzo saying. “Let the kids play the game.”

This was music to the ears of the 6-foot-4-inch Garrido.

“I always had a big strike zone and batters were better off hitting the ball than waiting for a walk,” Garrido said.

That fact was noted by former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and ABC announcer Jim Palmer. The 1990 Hall of Fame inductee retired in 1984.

“As we were walking off the field, Palmer signed my hat and said, ‘You know, if you were umpiring in the American League, I could still be pitching,’” Garrido said.

The umpire selections were made the night before the championship game.

“I couldn’t believe it,” was Garrido’s reaction when he was named the plate umpire. “I thought I was the luckiest guy there was. I was one of the youngest umpires there and I would have been tickled pink just to be in the game.”

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Not only did Garrido, who was 30 years old at the time, say he slept well the night before the game, but he had a couple of hot dogs and a soft drink just before showtime. “I was excited, but not nervous,” Garrido said.

“The hardest thing for me,” he continued, “were the fans. There were over 40,000. I was just used to a couple of hundred.”

It didn’t take long for Taiwan to get on the scoreboard, putting up a run in its first at-bat.

In the mind of Garrido it was, “Here we go again. Like almost everyone else, I thought this was the beginning of another landside. The thought definitely crossed my mind.”

Trumbull scored its five runs in successive innings. Ken Martin hit a two-run single in the third inning, Chris Drury connected for a two-run, basesloaded single in the fourth, and Martin belted a solo home run in the fifth.

If there was a turning point in the game, it very well could have come in the top of the fifth inning. Trumbull was leading, 4-1, but was in serious trouble. Taiwan had the bases loaded with one out. A fly ball got behind left fielder Danny McGrath, who quickly retrieved the ball at the base of the wall and, from 200 feet, fired a strike to home plate.

It was a perfect throw, cutting down the Taiwan runner attempting to score from second. Garrido sold the call for all he was worth. As one might imagine, the highly partisan American crowd went wild.

“From my angle, I thought for sure they weren’t going to make the play. But they did and I thought I got the play right,” Garrido said.

Tuggle agreed about that play being the turning point.

“I think that did change the momentum,” he said. “The fans were going crazy.”

Toward the end of the game, the fans were getting more and more animated.

“The one thing I will always remember near the end of the game was everyone standing up and stomping their feet,” Tuggle, currently the mayor of Amherst, Va., recalled. “I could feel the field moving beneath my feet. You could actually feel the field moving. As long as I live, I will never forget that.”

Garrido still had that play at the plate on his mind as he walked off the field, and he will never forget the experience.

“I get a thrill every year as I watch the Little League World Series and it brings back the joy of working it,” he said.

The team from Trumbull finished that historic 1989 tournament season with a 15-1 record, its only loss coming in round-robin play at the district tournament. To this date, it’s the last team from Connecticut to win a Little League World Series championship.

The win also marked the first U.S. championship since 1982. The game’s biggest star was Drury, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a steal while pitching a complete-game victory. Drury would go on to play Olympic hockey and was the 1998-99 NHL Rookie of the Year with the Colorado Avalanche. He is also a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

At the Eastern Regional in Bristol, Conn., coach Ed Wheeler made the kids a promise: If the team went to Williamsport, he would let them shave his head at home plate after the final game at Bristol.

Mission accomplished as the team clobbered Wilmington, Del., 15-5, in the Eastern Regional championship game, and they did shave his head.

And at Williamsport? Connecticut 5, Taiwan 2. Mission accomplished.

Ken Allan, Diamond Bar, Calif., a retired 30-year D-I umpire, is the California state rules interpreter for high school baseball.

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