Winning Del Mar Little League team members share special memories at 20-year reunion

By Karen Billing

Staff Box

Twenty summers ago they were just boys playing baseball. Not yet 13, before high school, before girls, this was their last summer to just be pure boys, playing for the love of the game and for each other.

Howard Anderson, a Del Mar architect and manager of the 1991 Del Mar Little League All Stars that made a run at the Little League World Series, organized a 20-year reunion for the weekend of July 15.

Standing taller on the Del Mar Heights school field, the men recreated the experience of their “Sandlot” youth—lunching on the In n’ Out burgers they always celebrated wins with, playing catch with their old warm-up partners, the familiar cadence of taking infield: “Jory, get two,” followed by the crack of a fungo bat.

An impressive 11 of 13 boys showed up to relive that All Star summer—the only players unable to attend were Adam Johnson who lives in Florida and Dan Mallott who is now a professor at the University of North Dakota.

Players on that ’91 squad who attended included Ryan “Ryno” Anderson; Michael Eaton, Shane “Finns” Finnerty; Tommy “The Vacuum” Hays; James “Hokey” Hochleutner; Peter “Mr. Clutch” Huffman; Trevor “Mr. Consistency” Hutchinson; Lee Sanudo; Ryan Whan; Jory Wolf; and Kevin “Oh Fifty-five” Boyd. (Note the .055 in Boyd’s nickname was just his scrimmage batting average—he’d end up with the second highest average on the team with .419 and the second lowest strike-out ratio.)

“This All Star team, they worked so hard, they played so well,” said Coach Bill Hayer, an architect who worked in Anderson’s office, recruited to coach because of his love of baseball. “To see them 20 years later…I was so excited to see what they’d done with their lives and the successes they’d become.”

Among them, two reached the major leagues: Johnson was the number two pick in the 2000 draft and pitched relief for the Minnesota Twins; Hutchinson made it to the Florida Marlins, also a pitcher.

Sanudo is a golf professional, working at the Carlsbad Golf Center. Boyd received a soccer scholarship to Boston College and played professional soccer for two years in Holland and Germany. He still remembers hitting a homer off his former teammate Johnson in a high school game as a freshman. “Sorry AJ!”

Huffman works at Merrill Lynch in San Diego and with the Clinton Foundation set up AIDS treatment locations in Africa. Hochleutner came in all the way from New York, where he works as an equities trader. He made it to the Division 3 College World Series with Emory University.

Finnerty lives in Oceanside and works as a key account manager for Boyd Coffee Company. Whan is a head production accountant at Sony Pictures, last working on the movie “Country Strong.” Hays runs his own produce business called SoCal Citrus.

Wolf came to the reunion with his 10-week old son in tow, he now lives in San Diego and runs a financial company. Ryan Anderson is freshly married, living in Texas and, like his father, earned a master’s in architecture. He now runs a design and fabrication firm in Austin, Texas.

“(The coaches) taught us so many things. Among them how to be gracious winners, how to be gracious losers, how to give our all no matter what the situation, and how to be a good teammate,” Ryan Anderson said. “These values have served us well since then. It was a great group of kids then and an amazing group of adults now.”

Eaton also learned from his architect coaches. “It helped me see that there can be a balance in being involved in sports and the arts at the same time,” he said.

Now Eaton runs his own multi-media creative firm, and as a fashion photographer and director specializes in music videos and commercials. He lives in Del Mar.

“I’m so proud of all of them,” Howard Anderson said. “(Their success) doesn’t surprise me because they were really smart, hard-working kids.”

Reunion weekend began with a welcome party at Anderson’s Del Mar office, with memorabilia from their season up on the wall. They watched videos of their games and laughed, reminiscing on the old days, like riding to games in the back of the Anderson VW van, debating whether or not spilled water stained carpet.

“They fell back to being 12 years old,” said Hayer, who was about the age the men are now when he was their coach at 34.

Did they recognize each other?

Hayer said it was easy, it all came back to him when he saw their childlike smiles.

“I haven’t seen most of these guys in 15 years but everyone’s pretty much the same,” Eaton said.

After Friday night’s get-together they spent Saturday on the field at Del Mar Heights, followed by a barbecue and a golf outing on Sunday.

That 1991 championship team has ended up being the most successful in Del Mar Little League history. In the Coast South Area tournament they smoked their Rancho Santa Fe rivals 15-0. They blew through Encinitas and Vista to reach the District 31 tournament where they beat Temecula in the championship game 8-1 to get to sectionals.

Eaton hit a home run shot against Temecula, with Anderson noting: “His home run trot was very slow.”

“We were always the underdogs,” Eaton said, recalling an old to-do list pinned to the board in Anderson’s office that read: “Jackets…no sponsor…tried.”

Their wins were “magical,” Howard Anderson said, coming on late-inning heroics. Their team goal was to never give up.

“Throughout the summer I learned that nothing was over until it was over. I learned as long as we had at bats left, we had a chance,” said Hochleutner. “That summer gave me the confidence that with hard work, persistence, determination, faith and a little luck, great things can happen.”

Johnson was Anderson’s “Mr. July” and much like Mr. October Reggie Jackson, he led the team in hits (20), RBI’s (27) and homeruns (6) and batted a dangerous .455.

Sectionals were played in Imperial Beach and the men remembered how Mr. July “hit a homerun into Mexico.”

The team fell just short of making it to the Little League World Series, losing to El Cajon 6-2.

While Anderson had new All Star caps made up for the entire team for the reunion, Hoffman showed up to Del Mar Heights on Saturday afternoon wearing his faded original that no longer fit his head.

Huffman said he hadn’t thrown a ball in maybe 15 years, “I’ll probably pull a hammy,” he told his old friends. No hammies were pulled in the making of this reunion—playing right field, Huffman fielded the ball with an exaggerated crow hop.

The men recreated their intimidating pre-game warm-up—infielders throwing to first and then rushing to snatch a dribbler thrown by catcher Anderson and toss it on the run back to first.

The team swang the bat with equal ease, hits sailing into outfield where the men shagged balls in between catching up.

During batting practice, Hays ripped a home run ball that carried over the outfield and the playground, smacking the wall of one of the portable classrooms. His old teammates cheered.

Anderson watched it all from behind home plate.

His wife Barbara said she was worried at first when Anderson set out to plan the reunion. She worried he’d be disappointed, that the boys wouldn’t come or that maybe it wouldn’t have meant as much to them as it did to him. But as responses trickled in, it became clear that it had.

“Best summer of my childhood,” Eaton said.

Plans are already underway for a 25th anniversary, another summer weekend looking back when they were still boys.