Originally published August 15, 2014.
As you may know, I am a big fan of the old Backyard Baseball video games. In fact, I have a low-burn campaign to get the original games on Steam. So, with the Little League World Series here, I got to thinking: Whatever happened to those kids? Where are they now? I mean, I presume they lived in California, since that’s where Humongous Entertainment was, and I’m going to guess they’d be in their 20s nowadays (the oldest of them would have been, like, 13 in 1997 and the release of the first game, and the youngest would have probably been 6 or 7. Most of them seemed to be be around 10, 11 or 12), but… what would they be doing now? How did their lives turn out?
I did some research, and here’s what I found. It was a high-achieving group, with three individuals playing professional baseball, several others playing sports in college or professionally, and others going on to stardom or at least happy lives. Sadly, as with any large group of people, there were some who never achieved their dreams, others who lost their way, and even one who who is no longer with us. And then, there is one final person who is a story all of his own…
- Kenny Kawaguchi, the wheelchair-bound player who appeared in early games of the series but later disappeared, currently runs a music-and-sports podcast in Los Angeles, where he works as a consultant to various tech companies.
- Tony Delvecchio had a brief career in the Mets organization and Indy-ball. A proud Italian-American, he represented Italy in some minor international tournaments. He now is a bartender in Las Vegas and is married with two kids.
- Although Tony would refuse to ever admit it, his sister, Angela Delvecchio, fared far better at baseball, playing on the boys team at a small NAIA school before causing a brief media stir when she was signed by a team in the Golden Baseball League in the 2000s. She continues to pitch in the Girls Professional Baseball League in Japan and is a member of the United States Womens National Baseball Team.
- Pete Wheeler joined the Army and won a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions overseas, and is currently being considered for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in rescuing his commander from enemy fire. He also has taken up ping-pong.
- Brothers Achmed and Amir Khan, as well as Amir’s wife Maria (née Luna), now tour the nation as America’s number one Pakistani/Mexican Fusion Metal-Rock Trio, the Wrath of Khans.
- Ashley and Sidney Webber‘s tennis careers floundered shortly after they turned pro, with neither of them getting past the second round of any major tournament and only reaching the third round of a major tournament as a pair. The two, who often appear on lists of “greatest sports phenom busts”, recently wrote a controversial book in which they blamed their domineering father for their issues, saying that he took away a normal childhood from them. Both now retired, Ashley is an assistant coach at Notre Dame (ironically, her father’s alma mater) while Sidney has started a program meant to bring tennis to children of low-income families.
- Dante Robinson is now a competitive eater, holding the record for most hamburgers eaten and is second in the world in several categories, including pickles, bananas, and peanut butter. When not competing, he sells insurance and is in a steady relationship with another competitive eater, Kimmy Eckman (female champion in candy bars).
- Vicki Kawaguchi, Kenny’s little sister, has had a tough life. While rumors that she for a time turned to a seedier form of dancing after her ballet career never took off have neither been confirmed nor denied, it is known that she was, in Kenny’s words, “disowned” from the family at one point and had problems with substance abuse. Thankfully, things have seemingly turned around for Vicki, who wrote and drew a best-selling manga-inspired graphic novel on her experiences, entitled “The Pointe in Life”, which she mysteriously dedicates to a “P.S.”
- Dmitri Petrovich, contrary to popular belief, does not work at the NSA. Nor does he work at DARPA. The report that he was arrested for being a Russian spy is also completely false. No, the truth is much more mundane: Dmitri Petrovich actually works at Virgin Galactic. Well… I guess that’s not that mundane. Oh well.
- Stephanie Morgan‘s baseball career came to a tragic end when she suffered a catastrophic leg injury during a game at Tin Can Alley. Thankfully, the experiences that came from that injury led her to pursue a life in medicine. One of the oldest of the backyard gang, she now works as a orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles.
- Annie Frazier later turned full-time to soccer, playing in High School and College. She now runs a co-op food market in San Francisco after funding from an unknown source saved it from financial ruin.
- Vinnie the Gooch is currently serving time for fraud and money-laundering, but swears he was framed because “The Gooch wouldn’t do that stuff”.
- Ernie Steele was heavily recruited by Division I basketball teams and eventually signed a letter of intent at Syracuse. Jim Boeheim kicked him off the team after one practice after a joke that centered on a particularly bad pun about the zone defense. After some time playing in Europe and several dozen standup classes, “Funnybones” is now a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
- Sally Dobbs is an attorney, while her little brother Ronny is a firefighter, having grown up both in size but also in courage.
- Mikey Thomas kept playing baseball and bloomed into quite the slugger as he defeated his childhood sicknesses. He was given a scholarship to Humungous University. However, he then found himself unable to keep up with D1 pitching, and his slow speed and so-so fielding caused him to be benched. Seeking an edge, Mike turned to steroids. It was then, according to him, that he received an anonymous letter that told him that cheating was the easy way out, and then went on to give him a few good tips. Thomas then broke out, hitting home runs in five consecutive games and winning back a starting position. Thomas reached as high as AA in the Red Sox organization before a knee injury took him out of affiliated ball (ironically, Stephanie Morgan, then in her residency, helped with the surgery). He now coaches baseball not far from where he and the others played in their childhood.
- Jocinda Smith’s played for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and now plays in the WNBA, where she is a perennial All-Star.
- Kiesha Phillips later turned to softball and was an All-American in college. She now works as a school counselor in her hometown.
- Gretchen Hasselhoff is now a voice actress, best known for doing those disclaimers at the end of commercials that are spoken so fast you can barely understand them.
- Ricky Johnson played for a mid-major Division I football team but has since fallen on hard times due to heavy medical bills and post-concussion problems. A recent mysterious donation has helped ease the financial problems, but sadly nobody is sure if Ricky will ever be the same again.
- Marky Dubois was for a time missing, and presumed dead, somewhere in the Louisiana Bayou, where he went saying he would find the legendary “Skunk Ape” and bring it back to civilization. Nobody, apparently, told him that the Skunk Ape is said to live in Florida. Late last year, however, he traipsed out, a frog in one hand and some hairs he claimed to be from the “Skunk Ape” in another. He has yet to discuss his ordeal.
- Billy Jean Blackwood’s modeling career never panned out, so she instead went into the hospitality industry. She currently is an assistant manager at a hotel in New Orleans.
- Luanne Lui, the youngest of all the backyard kids, recently graduated from Humongous State University, where she played softball. She is pursuing a graduate degree but has not yet decided in what yet.
- Reese Worthington played soccer in college and has begun a career in finance and was recently featured in a news story about his large stamp collection.
- Every “Where Are They Now” article has a sob story. And in this case, it’s the fate of Jorge Garcia, the bespectacled kid with a weird swing. Garcia passed away at the age of 16 when he was killed in a hit-and-run not far from Parks Department Field #2, where his family had recently sponsored the building of a new concession stand. Despite a hefty reward offered by his family, no perpetrator was found until several years later, when an anonymous tip led police to a man who quickly confessed to the crime. Due to the tip being anonymous, the reward money was donated to the local Backyard Sports organization and also used to create a scholarship in Jorge’s name.
- Although she was probably the last one anyone expected to do so, Lisa Crocket eventually blossomed into a beautiful and outgoing woman and became a actress who is best known for her role as Cynthia Coat in “Pajama” Sam Peterson’s gritty reboot of Pajama Man.
- Sunny Day currently works behind the scenes at BNN, which you may be familiar with if you play Out of the Park Baseball.
- And finally…
Pablo Sanchez. The Secret Weapon. The undisputed greatest of all the backyard kids, who was great no matter the sport but was greatest of all in baseball. Nobody ever truly knew much about him, as he only seemed to know Spanish and usually just let his skills do the talking. At least, that’s what everybody thought. In reality, Pablo spoke perfect English, he had learned Spanish- and become instantly fluent in it- in school. And, as he continued to rule anything and everything he tried his hand at, certain eyes were drawn to him. Rumors began to spread of a child who would break all existing sports paradigms, the sports equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Whatever team that would get him would instantly become the greatest on earth, whatever league that had him would become the most popular in the nation, and whatever he endorsed would instantly become the best-selling.
He would upset the balance of all sports and all the economies connected to them, bringing about chaos. Quite simply, the lords of sports decided, Pablo Sanchez could never be allowed to play sports above the youth level.
They came to him a few days before he started High School. All four commissioners of the Big 4, the heads of the IOC, FIFA, NASCAR, and ESPN’s X-Games divisions. Several major CEOs and a few big-name agents. Some say that even a few senators showed up. Never before or since had such a conglomeration come together.
They made Pablo and his family a simple offer: In exchange for not disrupting the natural order of competition and business in the sports world, they would give him a half-billion dollars. A year. Until the age of 50, at which point it would merely become a million dollars a year.
You’d like to think that Pablo would have been incorruptible. But, alas, even he had a price. And so, the greatest athlete of all time never stepped on the field.
Instead, he became something so much greater. You see, while others would have just taken that money, gotten a nice mansion, and lived a life of leisure, Pablo would have no such things. After college (where he was Summa Cum Laude, of course), he began to travel. And he began to help people. You see, over the years, Pablo looked out for his friends. It was he who saved Marky Dubois from the deepest part of the Bayou, it was he who wrote that letter to Mikey Thomas, it was he who helped fund Annie Frazier’s business, it was he who paid Ricky Johnson’s bills, and it was he who gave the tip that led the police to the man who had killed Jorge Garcia. And, yes, it was he who was the one who helped Vicki Kawaguchi turn her life around, something for which she dedicated her book to him for.
Yes, the Secret Weapon still has been amazing, and still can do no wrong. And to this day, if you see a man driving a purple car going “putt-putt-putt” down the road, know that he probably is on his way to do something amazing again, perhaps finding out what really happened with Vinnie the Gooch or looking for what happened to Earl Grey, the soccer announcer who hasn’t been seen in nearly a decade. And you can know that he has made a difference, even if it wasn’t on a sports field…
You see, once, during his travels, he came to a town in New Jersey. While there, he went to a youth baseball practice. He saw something in one of the players, something like he once was. He went up to that player. And, in the next few hours, he taught nearly everything he knew to that kid.
You may know that “kid” as Mike Trout.
The Secret Weapon lives on.