Santa Margarita Little League manager C.J. Ankrum is no stranger to the national stage
C.J. Ankrum, manager of the Santa Margarita Little League All-Star team that will begin play Friday in the Little League World Series, was also a member of the Cal State Fullerton baseball team that captured a College World Series title in 1995.
The 1995 Titan squad capped a school-record 57-9 season with an 11-5 victory over USC to win the collegiate championship.
Drawing parallels between both experiences is easy, Ankrum said. Both events garner national TV exposure and both are staged in iconic venues.
Little League’s ultimate prize is contested in the 58-year old, 40,000-seat Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa.
The College World Series has been contested in the 24,000 seat TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. since 2011, but was staged in Rosenblatt Stadium for 60 years prior.
Both cities roll out the metaphorical red carpet for players and fans through a variety of festivities.
“I think they are very comparable,” Ankrum said in a phone interview from Williamsport as he prepares his squad to face Walla Walla, Wash., in its World Series opener.
That said, there is something special about the purity of Little League and being in Williamsport, he added.
“You can watch it on TV but until you get here, and you walk out your door and you see the stadium … it’s unbelievable,” Ankrum said. “It’s surreal … there is just something about Little League.”
As the father of 12-year-old Tyler Ankrum, the team’s second-baseman, Ankrum transitions back and forth between his roles as manager and proud father of a son playing on Little League’s grandest stage.
“I’m able to separate it,” Ankrum said. “I think the difference in this situation is that we are able to walk off the field and spend the rest of the afternoon together (as father and son). I get to manage 13 of the best players in California and be a dad to the greatest son in the world.”
Assistant coaches Joe Rutter, father of Drew, and Rich Gray, father of twins Bobby and Joey, are in a similar situation.
Mindy Ankrum, C.J.’s wife of 16-plus years, performs double duty, cheering for her son and husband.
Two weeks ago, the mother of three was traveling back and forth between Palmdale – where her 10-year-old son Blake was playing in the Southern California 9-10-year-old All-Star tournament – and Long Beach, where Tyler was playing and her husband was managing in the 11-12-year-old SoCal tourney.
“I get just as nervous for all of them and get just as excited for all of them,” said Mindy, who met her future husband in a criminal justice class during her first semester at Cal State Fullerton.
During their 10 days in Williamsport, Ankrum’s team of 12- and 13-year-olds, along with the other 15 teams, live in a melting pot of a residential complex called International Grove.
The team lived in dormitories for a week during the West Regional Tournament in San Bernardino before heading directly to the airport after the final game.
Youngsters spending so many consecutive days away from home could take a toll, but these boys are more mature than most, Mindy said.
“They are like little men,” she said. “They act and behave like men.”
C.J. noted that Little League’s all-star season began in July at the district level with roughly 16,000 players competing in 7,000 games. The eight U.S. and eight international teams playing in Williamsport are the last ones standing.
“I really want to impress upon the kids to soak up everything,” Ankrum said. “I would give my (College World Series) ring up to give these kids this experience, but the great thing is that I didn’t have to.”
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