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Remembering Kirkland Little League’s 1982 World Series win

Aug 17, 2022, 12:47 PM
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The Kirkland Little League All-Stars at Williamsport, PA in August 1982. Front Row: Dave Keller, Chad Hartvigson, Eric Johnson, Mark Swain, Bill Cook, Sean Corcoran, Greg Miller. Back Row: Manager Don Cochran, Tiakan Sekine, Perry Travis, Mark Peterson, Brian Avery, Graham “Gibbie” Black, Cody Webster, Mike Adams, Coach Pat Downs. (Courtesy Graham Black)
(Courtesy Graham Black)

As a Little League team from Bonney Lake gets set to play in this year’s summer classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that’s all the excuse necessary to look back 40 years to Kirkland’s amazing World Series victory in 1982.

It’s quite the understatement to say it was a big deal in Kirkland and all over Puget Sound when the Kirkland Little League All-Stars made their championship run that hot and dusty August in the early years of the Reagan administration. Long-gone Kirkland radio station KGAA carried the game live on glorious AM, and KOMO had ABC’s live TV coverage on channel 4.

Following the victory, the young players were catapulted into the pre-Internet media spotlight and showered with civic honors, including a festive parade through downtown Kirkland. Over the years, the team has been the subject of countless stories and an acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called “Little Big Men.” Some of the players struggled with all the attention after the big win, while others went on to play college and even professional baseball, if not making it to the major leagues.

KIRO Newsradio caught up with one of the players known in 1982 as Gibbie Black. He’s 53 now, and goes by his first name Graham or just “Gib.” He lives on San Juan Island with his wife and kids and builds houses in Seattle.

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Gib Black doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who has a shrine to the glory days of 1982 in his basement or den. He wasn’t a starter on the team, though he did play critical roles, and was clearly a leader off the field.

During that spring and early summer of 1982, his regular team – The Braves – won the Kirkland city league championship, and Gib was then named to the Kirkland All-Stars. The All-Stars won the local tournament in Redmond and then won the state tournament in Everett August 10 – which happened to be Gib Black’s 13th birthday.

Forty years ago, Gib says he was more into soccer, but he loved playing baseball with his friends and having enough time to do his Seattle Times daily paper route. Black’s memories of 1982 and the run-up to the World Series paint a picture of what seems like a much earlier time in Kirkland’s history.

The late Pat Downs was coach of Black’s regular team and of the All-Star team, Black says.

“[His] mom was called ‘Grandma Downs,’ and she had a house kind of in ‘old Kirkland’ and had a batting cage on an alley,” Black told KIRO Newsradio. “So we would go up there for extra practice. I went to the Community School right in downtown Kirkland, so I’d walk up and over to her house. That was really a fun time.

The win at state meant heading for the regionals in San Bernadino, California – flying there with just the coaches, sleeping in a dorm, and being away from home without parents. That’s when it all got serious – at least on the field.

“Honestly, it was just still pure fun,” Black said. “I wasn’t one of the starters, so those guys were carrying the weight of the team, I guess. But it was really just a super-cool experience.”

“And besides,” Black continued. “I had the 24-hour flu the day we got to leave the [baseball] compound and go to Disneyland. My first trip to Disneyland, I was just throwing up in the lines [for rides] and puking on the bus. There were no parents around to stop me.”

Black’s flu symptoms aside, Kirkland won the regionals in California. They got right on a plane and went straight to Williamsport, Pennsylvania – the cradle of American Little League and site of the annual World Series. Black says the pilot of the plane even announced on the intercom that the team was aboard and headed for the series.

“That felt like, ‘oh wow, this is a big deal,’ you know?” Black said.

While traveling and in between sleeping and practicing, the players from each respective team pretty much kept to spending time with just each other. It was just two years earlier, in 1980, when a team from Kirkland had also made it to Williamsport. Those guys were heroes to him and his teammates, says Gib Black, and their earlier visit to Pennsylvania gave the 1982 team a lot of confidence, even though the 1980 team had lost to a team from Sarasota, Florida in the semi-finals.

“We were all 10-year-olds at the time, and I think having those guys go to Williamsport with the same coaches, it did instill in us kind of this fearlessness, or this sort of the sense that, if those guys could do it, we could do it, too,” Black said.

“Those guys [from 1980], they were our idols,” Black continued. “Those guys are huge in my mind. When I would go down to Peter Kirk Park in the old alignment and watch games of the older kids when they’d moved on from Everest Park, it was just inspiring.”

Kirkland in the early 1980s, Black says, “was a really tight baseball community, and I think that made a huge difference.”

At some point during their time at Williamsport in 1982, Gib and the other Kirkland players, who were staying in a compound at the ballpark, learned that they, too, would have to face a team from Sarasota.

“We were all a little chagrined,” Black said. “We’re like, ‘oh well, we’re gonna lose,’ you know, ‘it’s okay, we’re gonna lose.’”

But then, something dramatically changed. It happened when Gib Black got outside the Kirkland dorm rooms and sized up the competition.

“I remember walking around the compound and I met some kids, I started talking to these kids from the Sarasota team,” Black said. “They were not like these physically intimidating athletes, you know? I was like, ‘Wait a second, we can beat these jokers.’”

“And I remember going back to our dorm [and] being like, ‘guys, you know, I talked to these kids and they’re nothing. You know, we can beat them,’” Black continued. “And this was based on absolutely nothing except me checking them out and giving them the hairy eyeball.”

Talking to a man in his fifties about a game that happened four decades ago, it’s easy to forget that in August 1982, Gib Black and his teammates were talented ballplayers who were all still just . . . kids.

Did anyone ever lose it and have a big tantrum or crying fit?

Yes, Black said. One evening in Williamsport – the night before the USA final, pitting Kirkland against Michigan, a Kirkland pitcher named Mike “Moose” Adams got really upset and left the dorm in tears.

“It’s got to be nerves, a huge amount of nerves,” Black said. “And honestly, I think our coaches were drinking at some bar with a lot of the other parents. And it’s not exactly ‘Lord of the Flies,’ but [Moose] is gone, and he’s saying he’s not going to pitch, he’s quitting the team and all this stuff, and everyone’s just kind of going crazy.”

“Then it was me – and somebody else – we went out and found him in some bushes crying,” Black said. “And [we] kind of tried to make him feel good and brought him back to the team and everything was good again.”

Along with his baseball chops, 13-year-old Gib appears to have had a lot of what nowadays might be described as “emotional intelligence.” Otherwise, Moose might still be out there in the bushes – or at least maybe he might have missed the game against Michigan.

The next day, with Moose pitching, Kirkland beat Michigan 3-2 to win the USA title. They also earned the right to compete against Taiwan on Saturday, August 28, 1982 for the World Series title.

As 36,500 fans looked on in Williamsport – and millions more watched on TV, and perhaps hundreds listed on KGAA – Kirkland dominated the entire game, beating Taiwan 6-0, breaking a 31-game winning streak for the team, and breaking a streak of five World Series titles for Taiwan. Kirkland pitcher Cody Webster was the standout, throwing a shutout, and hitting a towering and record-breaking home run in the fifth inning of the six-inning game.

Though he wasn’t a starter, in addition to pinch hitting and drawing a walk in the sixth inning, Gib Black was also a third-base coach, which is something that nowadays only the adults are allowed to do in Little League. In that final game, Gib was there alongside the bag, leaning in a bit to get a better view of the signals flying back and for between the catcher and pitcher for Taiwan’s team. And, of course, Kirkland had their own set of signals ready to deploy.

“I would take my left hand and put it on my right elbow, and I’d look at our coach,” Black said. “And if I did that, he would yell, ‘Be a hitter! Be a hitter!’ And that was our signal that a curveball was coming, or at least we thought a curveball was coming.”

When Kirkland pitcher Cody Webster came up to bat in the fifth inning, Kirkland was already up 4-0. But from his post alongside third base, Black saw something. Immediately, his left hand went to his right elbow, and, like clockwork, Coach Downs yelled, “Be a hitter! Be a hitter!”

The rest, as they say, is Little League history.

“So Cody’s home run came on a ‘be a hitter!’ call, which is always a fun thing for me to have contributed my little my way to that hit,” Black said.

Other than when he’s pestered by a radio historian or when construction clients ask him to tell the story, Gib doesn’t dwell on what happened in 1982 – he seems to be too level-headed for that – but he definitely does have fond recollections that stand out compared with stories from most people’s childhood years.

“I have a very vivid memory of that third out [in the final inning] and all of us just racing in towards the mound and going crazy,” Black said. “And Cody was, of course, at the center of our adulation, but just pouring in around him.”

“And looking in the stands, the stands were so full of people,” Black continued. “And the whole hillside behind the stadium is this kind of terraced grass hillside, and it was just overflowing with people and American flags.”

“It was magic,” Black said.

As he points out, Gib Black was more into soccer than baseball – after 1982, he played Pony League baseball for a few seasons, and many seasons of select soccer. He then played soccer for two years at Macalester College in Minnesota.

But the Little League memories – and what can only be called a healthy perspective – have remained.

“I was 12 and 13 years old. It was wonderful. I had a great time, but it was something that happened 40 years ago,” Black said. “So I like to think that I’ve done some good for the world as well, besides, you know, played Little League baseball.”

Black says a 30th-anniversary reunion for the team was held around the time of the release of the ESPN documentary. As far as Black knows, there are no plans to formally mark this year’s 40th anniversary.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or questions, please email Feliks here.

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Remembering Kirkland Little League’s 1982 World Series win