This week marked the beginning of All Star season for Little Leagues around the country. The 11-12-year-old teams for each league will begin a journey that could, in theory, take them all the way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League World Series. That begs the question though, could a Santa Clara team realistically ever make it to Williamsport?
In both 2017 and 2018, Santa Clara Westside All Stars won District 44. In 2017, Westside also nearly won the Section 5 tournament under then Head Coach Jeremy Advincula. They were just one win away from advancing to the Northern California tournament, but lost two straight games in the championship series.
That 2017 Westside team beat a likewise strong Santa Clara Briarwood squad to win the District 44 final. Both leagues have produced some top tier talent in recent seasons, but according to Advincula, they would need to merge in order for Santa Clara to have a realistic shot at getting to Williamsport.
“When I joined [Westside], they asked me what they needed to do to go to the World Series,” remarked Advincula, who now coaches high school baseball at Archbishop Mitty. “I told them as long as Homestead, Briarwood and us have their own leagues, they won’t have a shot.”
While joining forces and having one combined league for Santa Clara would give the city a shot at going to Williamsport, why hasn’t it happened yet?
“I love the rivalry and camaraderie between the two leagues,” remarked Briarwood President Mario Samora. “I’m not sure we are ready to make one league, but it has been discussed.”
Former Briarwood coaches Emmit Palacios and Arnold Aldor of the 2017 Briarwood team shared similar sentiments to Samora.
“Merging together would definitely give the city a great shot to get to Williamsport,” noted Palacios. “But I feel there is too much tradition for both leagues over the years. We would have good players sitting out and we would lose the exciting rivalry.”
“All Star teams would definitely be more talented and have more depth. They would have 14 bonafide studs that can all pitch like a number one starter and hit like a cleanup hitter,” chimed Aldor. “But it would take away from the inner-city rivalry, previous generations grew up playing for different leagues and were able to pass on this rivalry to the younger generations.”
Current Westside President Jeff Sanchez acknowledges a merger would create a team with a better shot at Williamsport, but doesn’t believe that would be the right reason to merge.
“I don’t believe that would be the right reason for Westside to pursue a merger,” said Sanchez on creating a super team. “It’s the postseason now and we are focused on All Stars but it is important to keep in mind the other 95 percent of the league. Delivering those opportunities to all of our kids is much more important than sending a team to Williamsport.”
With declining numbers in Little League participation throughout the area, the merge might be inevitable down the line. Homestead merged with Westside a few years ago because of said decline. Time will tell, but perhaps Briarwood and Westside would want to merge sooner than later. Sending a powerful super team to Williamsport could potentially have the power to increase player participation in the future.