Image credit: (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images)
Making it to the Little League World Series is a dream for any youth baseball player, the ultimate goal for 12 to 13-year-old All-Star teams worldwide. That dream is genuinely all-consuming for the players because, according to Kiko Garcia—a member of the 2009 Park View All-Stars from Chula Vista, CA—the road to Williamsport doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else.
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“I think it’s pretty much non-stop for the whole summer,” said Garcia. “You’re just ‘go, go, go’ for the whole summer.”
Garcia and Park View barely broke a sweat during qualifying, winning their final two games by a combined twenty runs. Park View arrived in Williamsport with a reputation that preceded them.
“We basically stream rolled regionals, and we were coming in knowing we were the dominant team—people were talking about us in that light,” said Garcia. “I think we came in kind of already inherently disliked because we were the team with the attention.”
Garcia and his teammates backed up that attention with authority. They drilled 19 home runs as a team and defeated Chinese Taipei in the championship game to secure the title, with Garcia earning the victory on the mound.
Life as LLWS champs was initially a whirlwind. They spent the ensuing months participating in parades and congratulatory ceremonies, as well as meetings with multiple U.S Presidents, big leaguers, and comedian George Lopez.
However, time moves on, and kids grow up. The Park View champs moved their way through middle and high school, some moving onto different sports and interests. Garcia, though, pushed forward with baseball, continuing to compete at a high level.
He made Team USA’s 14U roster, playing alongside future big leaguers like Alex Verdugo, and would commit to pitch at Pepperdine soon after. His high school days were spent playing on a top-ranked travel team and engaging in pitcher’s duels with travel ball teammate and crosstown high school rival Brady Aiken. While he looked back fondly on his championship in Williamsport, Garcia continued to strive for higher goals.
“I just didn’t want to be the Little League kid,” said Garcia. “I think it would’ve eaten me alive if the best thing I did in baseball was just be a good 12-year-old. I wanted to make sure that was never going to happen, and did everything I could to move onto the next level.”
Garcia stepped on campus at Pepperdine during the fall of 2014 and throughout his freshman season, did what many college freshmen do—he struggled. After spending most of his teens mainly seeing nothing but success on the field, Garcia found himself, for the first time dealing with self-doubt.
“If I would’ve been able to take things in perspective—you’re here for a reason, they gave you a scholarship for a reason, they really believe in you, I think it would’ve been a world of difference in my performance, I just didn’t have the right mindset—and I really wish I did,” said Garcia.
A quality summer in the Northwoods League helped him right the ship mentally heading into his sophomore year, and moving full-time to the bullpen as a junior agreed with his tenacious nature on the mound, leading to his best statistical season.
As a senior, Garcia’s elbow began to bark. While he continued to pitch through pain and get outs for the Waves, working through pain with a diminished repertoire had Garcia thinking of life after baseball. After speaking to an advisor about the upcoming MLB draft, Garcia realized he was staring at life as a late-
round senior sign or Indy ball journeyman. Instead, he threw his last competitive pitch for Pepperdine and entered the workforce after graduation.
“Baseball did a lot for me, and I didn’t want my perception of baseball being ruined by basically turning it into hatred of the sport by wasting years in the minor leagues,” said Garcia. “It’s never easy though, you grow up—especially with the success I had early on—just thinking there’s no way I don’t make it. But then reality hits.”
Garcia made good on the potential he displayed in Williamsport and looks back on his entire time in Little League—not just the title—as an essential experience.
“There’s something to playing Little League, because you’re playing with your local guys,” said Garcia. “Even if it’s not about baseball, you’re playing with people you could go to school with the rest of your life, and those could be your best friends.”
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former Pepperdine righthander and LLWS champion Kiko Garcia joins to talk about the Williamsport experience, facing off against Brady Aiken, and the pressure of sky-high expectations as an amateur.