08/21/08 12:30 AM ET
Youth inspired by 'The Perfect Game'
Mexico's flawless win reminder of harrowing '57 championship
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
His story was about a group of ragtag boys from Monterrey who, 51 years ago, had also made the trek to Williamsport, Pa., that this team from Matamoros had now made. Monterrey's trip ended in perfection -- a perfect game that brought Mexico its first Little League World Series title.
Winokur chronicled that historic victory in his book, "The Perfect Game," which he was here signing autographs for. As Winokur finished telling his story to the Matamoros team, pitcher Jesus Sauceda asked if Winokur might write about this Mexican team if somebody pitched a perfect game. Winokur said, "Yes."
Well, fans of Little League Baseball can search bookstores in the years ahead for Winokur's nonfiction account of Matamoros, because less than six hours after he shared the Monterrey saga, Sauceda pitched a perfect game.
"I guess he's got to write a book now," a smiling Sauceda said through a translator.
Now, Winokur has a promise he knows he must keep. He will keep it, too.
"I'll do something right," Winokur said.
Whether that story will be as gripping as the tale he wove about Monterrey, who's to say? At this point, Matamoros has not reached the championship game, and Sauceda and his teammates, who play Venezuela in a semifinal game on Thursday, might not reach the title game because of the stiff competition they still face.
Yet even if they reach the title game, even if they return to Matamoros taking the championship with them, their story will never be anything that resembles the odyssey that brought Monterrey Industrial the first Little League championship won by a non-U.S. team.
For the story about the 14 boys on coach Cesar Fez's '57 Monterrey team sounds like a tall tale, one stretched so thin it makes for good fiction, but nothing more.
But nothing in "The Perfect Game" comes from Winokur's fertile mind. Sometimes, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.
For who can dream up a story like "The Perfect Game," a book that chronicles the journey to Little League glory of a ragtag ballclub from Monterrey, Mexico?
"They walked 12 miles -- 12 miles -- to play their first game, which they had no expectations of winning," Winokur said as he sat inside the Little League Baseball Museum. "They walked 12 miles to play a game they thought they were going to lose."
Winokur's not relying on hearsay when he talks about the trek to Texas. Winokur has driven the route, and it's what the lore says it is -- 12 miles.
"They had no transportation; they had no money," he said. "They barely had enough money for three days. They ran out of money because they were winning. They took their hats off, and people would put coins in their hats to get to the next city.
"I kid you not."
If any group of boys showed more love for baseball, Winokur waits to meet them. For the boys from Monterrey had to endure obstacles that would have defeated lesser teams before that got close to the hallowed green of Williamsport. Remember the era?
America in the late '50s wasn't the melting pot it claimed to be. The road to equal opportunity here was pockmarked with potholes, and Fez's team didn't have much going for it.
"Today, [we] take it for granted. They travel all over the world," Winokur said. "These kids had never been away from home for one night. They'd never left Monterrey. They had no idea of the world beyond Monterrey.
"They didn't have television. How could they know?"
But Fez knew. He'd learned the game and life beyond Monterrey as a batboy for the old St. Louis Browns. It was in America where he'd become a baseball fanatic. He passed that fanaticism on to his boys.
Fez pushed his ballplayers like a drill sergeant. He led them on a trek northward, where they beat Little League team after Little League team en route to Williamsport, and when Fez and his boys from Mexico got here, nobody was prepared for a team like them.
The 14 boys on Fez's Monterrey team were different than any team that had ever played in Williamsport. They were small compared to their American counterparts. They also didn't have the flashy baseball gear that other teams had.
They were so small that Little League officials didn't have uniforms to fit them. The officials resisted at first letting the Monterrey team wears its uniforms from Mexico, but once they realized it was impossible to fit them into pre-made uniforms, officials let Monterrey wear its uniforms from home.
"It's the only time ever -- ever -- that a team has been allowed to wear its own uniform," Winokur said. "The only team, Monterrey Industrial, ever."
No matter what they wore, the boys from Monterrey caught America's fancy. They played hard. They played with passion. They played with discipline.
And they won.
In their last game, pitcher Angel Macias -- 80-plus pounds of guile who could throw with either hand -- pitched Monterrey into Little League history. His perfect game, much like Yankees right-hander Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series, has been the only one in the championship game.
That's a story worth preserving, at least while people are still alive to tell about it, Winokur said. So Winokur, an investment banker by trade, embarked on his own journey, traveling near and far to fill in the legend with boyhood recollections.
"Nine of the 14 are alive," he said. "Ten of the 14 were alive when I started writing the book. One of them [passed away]. I've met every single one of them that's still alive, and some of [the other players'] widows."
Their story is headed for the big screen, Winokur said. "The Perfect Game" has been filmed, though Winokur isn't sure of its release date. He's certain of this, though: His story is about the love of the game in its purest sense.
"They listened on the radio to a Spanish rebroadcast of Brooklyn Dodgers games," Winokur said. "They fell in love with the game."
And Winokur fell in love with their story.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.