Sixty years ago, a group of 12-year-old boys traveled from Roswell to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. What they would accomplish in that journey would be cherished and remembered for years to come. “We went from a dirt field in Roswell to an actual field with grass,” said the team’s left fielder, Harold Hobson. “I remember how the humidity in Pennsylvania made the grass wet and dewy. After we won and arrived back in Roswell, it finally set in what we had accomplished. Thousands of people were waiting to greet us, and it was then we realized that what we had done was a big deal.”
Hobson recalled traveling with his teammates by car, bus and train to their destination for the Little League World Series. They first had to win the district tournament, then the state tournament in Los Alamos. After these wins, they headed to the Southwest Regional Championship in Lubbock, Texas, followed by the area championship in San Antonio. For many of the boys, it was their first time traveling outside New Mexico. They stopped in Chicago and watched the Cubs and the White Sox play. Dick Storie, the first baseman and the team’s “youngster,” as he put it, recalled watching Ernie Banks of the Cubs, another fellow first baseman. The excitement in his voice even now was evident. “It was an amazing feeling, as you could imagine.”
Hobson added, “It was a real treat for 11– and 12-year-olds to watch the professional teams play in Chicago. It was fun and exciting for us boys to travel together and play baseball in front of about 10,000 people.”
Despite the dirt field, wooden benches, ragged uniforms and chicken wire backstop, these boys had one aim on their agenda, and that was to play ball. In retrospect, they were probably not supposed to win the Little League World Series. Not only did they overcome adversity and prove that it does not matter where you come from but where you are headed, these boys did it with humility and grace.
Catcher Blain Stribling remembered often having to throw tumbleweeds out of the way so that they could play. “The bases weren’t all that secure. They would sort of slide around when you stepped on them. It kind of felt like we were just playing in an empty lot back home, so when we got to Williamsport, that field was like heaven to us.”
Throughout my interviews with the players, one thing was evident. The aim of these boys was ultimately to have fun. “Our coach made sure we knew the fundamentals, but other than that, we were just encouraged to go out there and enjoy the game,” Hobson remarked. “We didn’t feel too much pressure or nerves when we played. We just had fun.” This attitude and perspective differed from those of the East Coast teams, who were trained with the sole intention of winning.
Eight other teams were competing in Williamsport during the Little League World Series. The boys defeated Delaware Township, New Jersey 3-1. Perhaps Roswell’s most notable player was pitcher Tommy Jordan, who was nearly impossible to hit off of. He ended the championship game with 14 strikes, two walks and just two hits. Despite the impressive skill set of Delaware Township, who beat their California competitor in the previous game 2-0, they simply could not hit off of Jordan.
Although the win 60 years ago is permanent, the game of baseball and the attitude towards it has evolved. “Back then, all that mattered was the game. That’s all we wanted to do was play ball,” confided Stribling, the sincerity apparent in his voice. “My grandchildren are playing ball now, and it is all competition. The mentality is different now than it once was.”
Victory was achieved and the boys made their mark on not only Roswell history, but also on baseball history. Along the way, lifelong friendships and bonds would be created. “It was a special group of boys,” Hobson stated. “We definitely developed some great friendships and stayed in touch with each other throughout the years.” Five of the men attended a dinner hosted by the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico in August, where they reminisced of their Lion days back in the late 1950s.
After the cheers and celebration subsided, the boys went on with their lives. Life happened, death happened, and everything in between. Somehow along the way, the trophy from that moment in history vanished. No one is sure of its whereabouts now or who may have it, but in the scheme of things, it was merely a tangible reminder of what was accomplished. The men today are the true testament to the victory of 1956.