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 CNS Story:

WINOKUR Aug-22-2008 (680 words) With book cover. xxxn

Author-screenwriter struck by faith of Mexican Little League champs

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If you were to buy a copy of the new book "The Perfect Game," you'd see a photograph of the 1957 Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico -- the first non-American Little League World Series champions -- standing in a church in Mexico City, in uniform, praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The faith of these 14 11- and 12-year-olds was that strong, said William O. Winokur, author of "The Perfect Game," a novelized treatment of the Monterrey team's odyssey in the Little League tournament through a country none had ever visited before. Winokur also wrote the screenplay for a movie of the same name scheduled for release in April 2009 -- when the new baseball season starts.

"One of the things I tried to do was pay homage and respect to that faith," Winokur said in an Aug. 18 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Fire Island, N.Y., where he was vacationing with his family. "Not to overdo it, but their faith was so important to those kids and that community."

The team insisted on a blessing before each Little League tournament game they played as they worked their way deeper into the United States. It was a tougher go in Kentucky, not a heavily Catholic state. "I think they assumed there was a priest in every small town. That was their experience," Winokur told CNS.

Before one Kentucky game, the boys were willing to accept a forfeit rather than play without a blessing. Their rationale, according to Winokur: "We are only here because of God's blessing. We are not going to play without him."

"They managed to drum up a (Protestant) minister who gave a blessing," Winokur said.

The undersized team crossed the Mexican-U.S. border by foot in uniform, carrying not only their bats and equipment but also "a change of underwear in a paper bag," according to Winokur. They walked 12 miles in their baseball cleats to their first tourney stop in McAllen, Texas.

There and elsewhere, they beat bigger, stronger and faster teams. In the World Series final against a much-heralded team from California, Monterrey pitcher Angel Macias, an ambidextrous "switch-pitching" hurler, tossed a perfect game -- the first ever thrown at Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa.

Winokur met with each of the surviving Little Leaguers from Monterrey and their coach, Cesar Faz; he also interviewed the widows of those players who had died in the intervening 51 years. From his interviews, he said, it was obvious to him that they "walked the walk of faith, not just talked about faith. They actually deeply lived by that, and if they didn't have that, they would have had nothing."

One of the more touching episodes he related in the book dealt with Monterrey player Baltasar Charles, who almost did not make the trip with his teammates. "Even though he was only 12 years of age, he was the primary caregiver of his younger sister (Patricia), who was born an invalid (due to a paralytic condition). He would take her everywhere. The night before they were supposed to leave, he told his team he just couldn't be away from Patricia. She came to him and said, 'Balta, if you don't go I will never forgive myself. I will feel as if I were the one who prevented you from being with your teammates.'"

Years after the Monterrey team's triumph, Baltasar said "he would have traded everything he had done in his life just to give his sister peace." Patricia died a few years after the Little Leaguers' championship.

"I get a lump in my throat when I think about her," Winokur told CNS.

While the book and subsequent movie are based on actual events, Winokur said he chose to call the book a work of fiction because of the varying recollections of 10 or more people who lived through events of 50 years ago.

"I didn't set out to write a journalistic account. I set out to weave a story," he added.


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