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Winning one for Bobby

Down by 11, the Wongs had their opponents right where they wanted them

Posted: June 20, 2009 8:47 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Wongs Chris Brackpool, left, turns to tag out a runner on the Titans from California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi on Thursday at Central Park during the 2009 Western States Police & Fire Games.

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In the bottom of the final inning, the Wongs were down by 11 runs.

It didn't seem the softball team had much cause for hope. They were a bunch of silver-haired cops who had come out of police softball league retirement after more than seven years on the sideline. And at last week's Police & Fire Games, they were pitted against a team of Los Angeles police officers half their age.

Their aging muscles weren't ready for the battle. In earlier innings, three of the men limped off the field with pulled hamstrings and an ambulance hauled off a fourth who busted his shoulder against the outfield fence.

Eleven runs behind. In the tradition of athletic superstition, they saw it as a message.

The team huddled around an old jersey before they went to bat. It was the reason they were out of retirement. It belonged to their team captain, Bobby Corrales. Corrales died of leukemia in April.

He was No. 11.

They chanted his name, and something happened.

They started scoring runs. Lots of them.

"Everybody was just shocked," said Kirk Corrales, 20, one of Bobby's sons who had come to watch his father's team. "It looked like the old guys - like they were young again. Like my dad wasn't gone."

The old guys
Sgt. Randy Levinson remembers how it used to be.

Bobby Corrales would set up a game somewhere and call his teammates, all current or former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and marshalls.

"Boys, we're putting the band together," he'd say.

That's all it took.

"We'd all drop everything and go, because it was Bobby," said Levinson, an infielder.

They'd travel across California, Nevada and Arizona to play against other amateur police-league teams and in tournaments like the Police Olympics.

Corrales had named the Wongs after a gang in the 1979 movie "The Wanderers." The Wongs were a mysterious Chinese gang with a slogan Corrales had taken a liking to: "Nobody (messes) with the Wongs."

Since the team was formed in 1994, its members lived up to the slogan. Corrales was a good all-round player, owing to his years as a baseball player for College of the Canyons, and later, Pepperdine University. He played as a shortstop and pitcher for the Wongs.

The group was among the top 10 police league softball teams in the country. They consistently earned medals in the California, Nevada and Arizona Police Olympic Games.

"Back then, we used to play in the Arizona games in March, California games in June or July and the Nevada games in August," said sheriff's detective Lt. Chris Bradpool, an infielder.

In the early 2000s, the close-knit team drifted apart. Its members had families and growing children. Team adventures on softball fields gave way to family trips to Little League games.

Gradually, the Wongs became the stuff of nostalgia, something the friends would reminisce about on vacations.

Corrales, a deputy at the Santa Clarita Courthouse, was on a cruise with family and friends when he started feeling ill.

He died a year later at his Valencia home.

Wongs again
It had been seven years since the Wongs had played. Several were well into their 50s.

Several of them got to talking at Corrales' funeral. The Police & Fire Games were coming up. Wouldn't Bobby want the Wongs to go out in a blaze of glory?

They signed up in the open tournament. Sure, they could have signed up to play against other teams whose members were more than 40 years old. But Bobby wouldn't have approved.

They geared up and gathered for the first time in the better part of a decade Monday at Central Park.

"If you can't hit a home run by now," they joked, "you're not going to learn in the next five minutes."

They brought Bobby's old No. 11 jersey along.

And in their first game, they devastated the Kern County Sheriff's Department team, 43-2.

The Wongs remained undefeated Tuesday. But on Wednesday, it looked as though they had met their match.

Then came the seventh inning - the last inning in a softball game - and they were down by 11 runs.

Bobby was there
Exhausted and hurting, the guys huddled around Bobby's jersey.

Some, resigned to defeat, suggested it might not be so bad to lose by 11 points. It's Bobby's number, after all.

It might have been that Bobby had something else in mind.

"A breeze just blew out to left field," Levinson said.

The Wongs scored 12 runs in a row.

The veteran cops wept, along with Corrales' relatives.

"Tears were just pouring," Levinson said.

Against all odds, and, they said, perhaps with Corrales' help, the victory earned them a bronze medal.

"It's made for TV," Levinson said, grinning.

The next day, the Wongs returned to the field, old men once more. They limped and hobbled to a sound defeat.

But that's not the game they'll remember.

Youthful smiles lit their tired faces, and they talked about the time when they were in the bottom of the seventh, down by 11 runs.

And Bobby was there.

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