I was a lucky kid in 1965. I was part of a Little League team from Windsor Locks that won the world championship at Williamsport, Penn., that year. It was no easy feat. There were more than 5,000 all-star teams in the world that year that tried to win it all, and we had the only team that didn't lose a game. Prior to 1992, the Little League all-star tournament was a single elimination affair. Lose and you go home. Nowadays it's a double elimination tournament — a huge difference.
Back then you needed two outstanding pitchers to advance in the tournament. Most teams had one very good pitcher, and they won when he pitched but lost when their second-best pitcher threw. We had two of the best that year. Mike Roche was one of those pitchers. He had a 3/4 arm delivery and was a power pitcher who also had a devastating curveball. There are probably other Little League pitchers who could match or exceed the velocity of his fastball, but I have yet to see them. He won seven of the 13 games we played and had an impressive ERA of 0.53.
Check out Patch's rare footage of the 1965 Little League World Series Championship Game filmed by author Philip Devlin's father, Francis W. Devlin.
Billy Boardman was our other pitcher. He was a tremendous competitor who played shortstop when he didn't pitch. In fact, after he moved to California, he did so well at short that he had a tryout with both the Dodgers and the Giants. Billy won six games and had an ERA of 0.78. Sadly, he died in July of 2000 from colon cancer.
Because of the change to double elimination, Little League all-star tournaments start much sooner because the teams have to play more games. For example, we played a total of 13 games, losing none. Fairfield played 24 games with a record of 21-3. They were 2-2 at Williamsport, losing to a strong California team twice there.
When we went to Williamsport, all of the teams stayed in spartan accommodations — cinderblock barracks with no AC and eight bunk beds lined up next to each other. No TV, no Internet, no cellphones. Now the kids stay in luxury condo units with all the trappings.
Other major facility differences include an extra stadium on the premises to accommodate a 16-team round robin tournament — eight American regions and eight international teams. When we were there, there were four American teams and four international teams — one from Canada, one from Latin America, one from the Far East, and one from Europe. Tokyo represented the Far East and was arguably the weakest team there. This year Japan won the championship. The European entry in 1965 was from Rota, Spain, and was also quite weak. They were kids who were the sons of American naval personnel stationed with NATO forces in Rota.
Back in 1965, all teams played against each other and used only wooden bats; for example, our first game was against Maracaibo, Venezuela. Nowadays, American teams initially play only other American teams and international teams play each other only — using metal bats — until a champion is established in each bracket. Then the American champion and the international champion play each other for the world championship. Fairfield, for example, played four games at Williamsport this year, all versus other American teams.
Another big difference has to do with media coverage. Until we reached the championship game against Stoney Creek, Ontario, our story was covered almost exclusively by newspapers. ABC Wide World of Sports televised the game on a tape-delayed basis and did not show the entire game. In fact, after the game was over, we had plenty of time to celebrate, return to our barracks, shower, dress, and then head to the mess hall and watch Jim McKay and Jackie Robinson call the game on Wide World of Sports! Contrast that with the extensive media coverage in recent years, where ESPN televises dozens of games live, beginning with the regional playoffs this year on Aug. 3.
Another reflection of the primitive nature of media coverage back in 1965 was the fact that the Donut Kettle Restaurant on Main Street in Windsor Locks would periodically receive a phone call from someone who could pick up the local live radio broadcast of the game in Pennsylvania and then post the score up in their front window. Following the game, the local radio broadcasters interviewed our manager, Bob O'Connor, and our coach, Russ Mattesen, in their broadcast booth behind home plate. To get to the booth, Bob and Russ had to climb up an extension ladder from the field!
More than 20,000 people watched our final game live — the biggest crowd ever to see a Little League championship up to that time. Nowadays, upwards of 40,000 regularly attend the final game, and tens of millions watch it live on TV. Our big guy, first baseman Dale Misiek — 5 foot 10 and 185 lbs. — hit a two-run homer to center to win the game. Dale had six homers and 20 RBIs in tournament play. Mike Roche mowed them down as usual, striking out 13 and allowing just one hit. We ended up winning, 3-1. In 13 games we had scored 68 runs and had held our opponents to just 12.
The town had a big parade and celebration for us in September of '65. Ella Grasso, a Windsor Locks native, was there, as was Governor Dempsey — see photo gallery above. It was a big thrill. Twenty-five years later, the town threw another party for us. It was a huge success and a lot of fun; in fact, one of the players from Canada came down for it, went home, and set up a reunion game in August of 1990. We wore reunion uniforms and played on a major league field. We beat them again — 5-2. It is the only known instance of two Little League championship opponents playing in a reunion game.
Connecticut has won the Little League championship four times, all during the single elimination era: Stamford in 1951, Norwalk in 1952, Windsor Locks in 1965, and Trumbull in 1989. California is the only state to have won more than four. I only wish that Fairfield could have made it five.