TORRINGTON – “We were the little boys playing with the big boys, but we didn’t realize it of course,” said R.B. Hackbarth, third baseman from the 1968 Torrington Little League team that finished 11th in the country. “We were just a bunch of kids out there having fun.”
The 1968 team was recognized for their accomplishments Saturday during the Torrington Little League Opening Day, with three of the players and the manager of the team in attendance.
Although 1968 was a successful year, the Torrington team was not expecting the amount of success they earned. The 1967 team was the team expected to make a deep run into the postseason, but it didn’t work out that way.
“That was the team everyone thought was going to go far, but it really didn’t pan out,” Hackbarth said. “That next year, we didn’t really expect to do that good.”
The team, piloted by manager Art Thompson, marched right through the state tournament in the summer of 1968, starting with a 15-0 win over Newcastle. Torrington then rattled off two more wins, beating Rawlins 9-0 and Powell 5-0, to win the state tournament, punching the team’s ticket to the regional tournament in Elko, Nev.
“We didn’t look forward to the next game, we were just playing ball and having fun,” starting pitcher Kelly Sittner said of the postseason success. “We were well coached and well supported by the community.”
Heading into Elko, the Torrington team picked up a 5-0 win over Grand Junction, Colo. 5-0 to head to the regional championship game, where they squeaked out a 4-3 win over Reno, Nev.
“The first thing that comes to mind is we were totally surprised by our success,” Sittner said. “Once we started seeing how good we were, that’s what really brought us together… It was an ongoing surprise for every one of us.”
With the two wins in Elko in the books, Torrington headed straight for Gallup, N.M. for a sectional tournament, where the team squared off against Albuquerque, N.M. In the 10-inning bout, Albuquerque got the better of Torrington with a 2-1 score, ending Torrington’s miraculous run, putting them as the 11th team in the country.
After the loss, the Torrington team flew into Scottsbluff, Neb. and headed for home. The team’s efforts did not go unnoticed by the town. Cars lined both sides of the street from the Wyoming state line to Torrington.
“It never really set in until we flew into Scottsbluff and those cars were lined up from Henry to Torrington on both sides of the street,” Hackbarth said.
“The town turned out to welcome us back,” Sittner said. “That’s what it’s like to be on a small-town, rag-tag team.”
The three players and manager from the 1968 Little League team were recognized by the current Little League community Saturday, with several speeches. When it comes to baseball, Sittner said there was one thread that bonded the 1968 team.
“We knew if I couldn’t make the play, the guy next to me would,” he said. “That’s what our team was all about.”
The achievement of finishing 11th in the country may have come 50 years ago, but the memories are still there for the players. What was once just a group of kids playing baseball, is now a lasting accomplishment.
“Now I do realize it was one hell of a team,” Hackbarth said. “Back then, that didn’t really sink in.”