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Little League World Series was a National holiday in '68

August 18, 2008|By LARRY YANOS

A funny thing happened to the 1968 Hagerstown National All-Stars en route to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

They almost didn't make it out of Washington County.

"It was single-elimination back then and one loss and you were out," said team manager Ron Phillips. "We were up against some tough teams in the district and we could have easily got beat in either of the first two games."

Mike Brashears, National's ace pitcher, outdueled Federal's Danny Reese 3-1 with a one-hitter in the Maryland District 1 opener. Stan Jones followed in the second game by allowing two hits in a 1-0 win over American and pitcher Billy Jolliffe.

"It's ironic that I beat Federal to start the process and then I coached 13 years in that league and had two sons play there," said Brashears, now 52. "And 40 years later, Federal makes it to the World Series."

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Brashears was among Saturday's group of Federal supporters on hand when the District 1, Maryland state and Mid-Atlantic Region champions opened World Series play with a 3-2 win over Jeffersonville, Ind.

"It's really different from what I remember from '68," Brashears said. "It's a beautiful facility."

Only a few youngsters have the opportunity to play in the international spotlight and soak in the atmosphere of the World Series.

In 1968, Phillips and coach Eddie Owens led National out of Washington County to have that chance.

"(Brashears and Jones) pitched great baseball but neither opposing pitcher was about to give in," Phillips said. "Those first two games were as difficult as any of the others we had the entire way."

National finished its run to the district title with wins over Oakland (12-2) and West End (11-1).

The roster included: Brashears, catcher Mike Small, first baseman Dave Wade, second baseman Dickie Haupt, shortstop Kevin Parks, third baseman Randy Miller, center fielder Greg Haupt, left fielder Mark Smith, right fielder Larry Karn, outfielder Tim Evans, outfielder Rick LaPole and pitchers Stan Jones, Terry Kline and Dwayne Boyer.

National won the state tournament in Brunswick, Md. with consecutive victories over Elkton, Harrandale and Forest Park to advance to the Division Tournament in Dover, Del.

Brashears tossed a one-hitter in the divisional opener in a 3-0 win over Newark, Del., before National passed a difficult test in the next game with a 10-5 win in eight innings over Wallington, N.J..

National swept through the Mid-Atlantic Region with wins over Scotia, N.Y. (9-1) and Roxsbury, Mass. (10-0) to earn the title and a trip to the World Series.

It became a little tougher in the World Series as National lost 3-0 to Santa Ana, Calif., with Brashears pitching.

"Although we lost the World Series opener, we drew a lot of respect." Owens said. "The Santa Ana manager remarked that his club drew from an area of 350,000 people and we drew from an area of around 5,000 people. He was surprised we were that good."

In consolation play, National bounced back with a 2-0 win over Wiesbaden, Germany, with Jones pitching, then lost 1-0 to Terre Haute, Ind., with Brashears pitching. Although National didn't win the Series championship, the team won the Series' sportsmanship plaque.

"It was a great experience," said Owens, now 73, who was National's pitching coach. "Ron and I had the privilege of working with a great group of kids. They worked hard, listened to what we were saying and made the most of their abilities."

National was blessed with balance - solid pitching, outstanding offense and defense and overall good team speed - but the loss of outfielder Mark Smith at the World Series changed the course of the team.

Smith broke his left leg while sliding into second base during the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game and watched the World Series in the dugout on crutches. He was hitting .770 when injured.

"What a shame," Owens said. "The bases were not breakaway back then. Mark slid into second base after a double and the bag didn't give an inch. He was a good outfielder and a good pitcher, when needed. We really missed him at the World Series. He was instrumental in our success."

Phillips and Owens said they felt they owed Smith some loyalty for his efforts.

"We were allowed by Little League rules to replace Mark on the roster but we decided not to," Phillips said. "Mark helped us get that far and, out of respect, we kept him on the roster."

A majority of the 1968 team lives in Washington County area and still get together, when possible.

"We had a reunion this spring at the opening day at National and we exchanged many stories with the coaches and fellow players," Brashears said. "I was a great run. Finishing sixth in the world isn't too bad. I still remember Japan beat Richmond, Va., 2-1, in the championship game. It was shown on a tape delay on Wide World of Sports that year."

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