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1963 Duluth Little League All-Star team recalls world series run

The Duluth Central Little League All-Star team visited Washington, D.C., the same week Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963.

The Duluth Central Little League All-Star team visited Washington, D.C., the same week Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963.

Those 14 kids probably didn't understand the cultural importance of the speech, but more importantly, they didn't need to be inspired.

The 11- and 12-year-olds had just lived the dream. Duluth won eight straight games in an improbable run to become the first Minnesota team to reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in its 17th year.

Afterward, the team visited the nation's capital.

"The whole experience [of the World Series] left you wanting to give something back," said outfielder Jim Barnsdorf, who joined the Peace Corps in the '80s. "It was one of those instances where sport buildscharacter and inspires you."

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This year, Coon Rapids became the fifth Minnesota team to advance to the World Series and first since Arden Hills in 1995. Coon Rapids lost to Lubbock, Texas, 6-0 Saturday and beat Salisbury, Md., 4-3 Sunday in the first games of pool play in the61st annual tournament.

"As we played, we had no clue of the importance of what we were doing," Greg Swor, a utility player, said. "We were just playing ball, but looking back, it was somethingspecial."

Before their first World Series game, Central was unsettled and their star player was ill.

Central's first-round opponent, Monterrey, Mexico, representing Latin America, dazzled an onlooking Central team during infield practice.

"We were mighty impressed with the Mexicans," said Barnsdorf, 55, a Duluth postal worker. "With their style and hustle in infield practice, they had the look of the Harlem Globetrotters. It was a performance. They were slick."

Meanwhile, Central's star pitcher, Steve "Pokey" Trachsel, had a temperature of 101 degrees and was questionable for the game.

Central scored three unearned runs in the third inning off abases-loaded walk, a wild pitch and an error.

Barnsdorf and Trachsel, who overcame the illness, hit RBI singles as Central won 5-2.

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In the second game agaist Stratford, Conn., former News Tribune sports editor Bruce Bennett wrote, "Duluth's valiant band of Little League warriors went down [in Williamsport] today."

Duluth managed four hits off Stratford pitcher Ron Defeo and loaded the bases in the fifth inning, but failed to capitalize and lost 5-0.

In the consolation title game, Central beat the Eurpean team, Izmir, Turkey, 3-1 to finish third in the world.

In the all-American championship game, Granada Hills, Calif., beat Stratford 2-1.

Duluth finished tournament play 10-1 and remain the only Minnesota team to finish the World Series with a winning record at 2-1.

"They were good," said coach Jack House, now 80. "They had good pitching, hitting and running. They were good at everything. Third in the world."

To get to Williamsport, Sherm Erickson hit a solo home run in a 1-0 win over Naperville, Ill., in the regional final at North Canton, Ohio.

"I remember [coach] House jumping up and down like a kid himself when [Erickson] hit it," said outfielder Chuck Ness.

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Trachsel shut down Naperville with 11 strikeouts.

"I caught the last out of [the regional final] in center [field]," Barnsdorf said. "[Trachsel] picked me up and spun me around. We had so much fun. ... Everything fell into place. It was the pure joy of sport. You can't write a recipe for that. We were so fortunate."

While few players, now 55 or 56, have few specific memories of the World Series, everyone interviewed remembered when they met former Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams to receive an autographed glove.

"I don't remember specific instances, but it was such a thrill to meet Ted Williams," said Ness, who, with Trachsel, later played college hockey for Minnesota Duluth.

In Washington, the team met U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., and then-Minnesota attorney general and future U.S. Senator Walter Mondale, D-Minn., as well as Minnesota Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual. They also watched the Twins play the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium.

Back in Duluth, the team received star treatment when an estimated 1,000 fans greeted the them at the airport with signs reading "welcome champs." They also got the key to the city from mayor George D. Johnson and had a downtown parade in their honor.

"Some kid from Duluth won the Soap Box Derby around the same time we went to the World Series and I felt bad for him," Swor said. "No one knew about him, all the attention was on us."

ANDY GREDER covers area sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5315 or by e-mail at agreder@duluthnews.com .

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