The Earthquake Kids Revisited

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The Earthquake Kids Revisited
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It's the 1994 Little League World Series, and Matt Fisher is feelin' the between-innings music.

This, he will remember.

His Northridge, California, team is leading Middleborough, Massachusetts, 6-3 going into the sixth inning, and the broadcasters are enjoying a little Fisher time as he awaits a warm-up grounder.

"Gotta shake … and bake over there … aaaand then field the ball,” the ESPNers say. “How about that Matthew Fisher, huh? That’s what you want your shortstops to be, nice and loose.”

The whole thing lasts about 20 seconds, about the same amount of time it took these Northridge kids to live through the then-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history earlier that year. A magnitude-6.7 earthquake just outside their Los Angeles community on Jan. 17 that year killed at least 57 people and did $20 billion in damage, topped only by Hurricane Katrina 11 years later.

Yet there was Fisher some seven months later, living in a what-me-worry moment that shows why he and NFL quarterback-to-be Matt Cassel and the rest of these 11- and 12-year-olds wouldn’t mind having a little fun as the so-called Earthquake Kids captured our attention and captivated us. In hindsight, it is a scene he hopes will “help explain a few things.”

Don’t be fooled. They turned serious once the ball was in play. But wasn’t this exactly what we needed almost as much as they did?

Twenty years ago, baseball struck out. The games stopped Aug. 12. The NHL and NBA were between seasons. The NFL was in preseason. The biggest news in sports still involved a white Bronco, and it wasn’t John Elway.

Something needed to fill the void.

"It was either us,” Earthquake Kid Nathaniel Dunlap says, "or O.J. Simpson.”

***

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

It was Sunday night, Jan. 16, 1994, at the Cassel house. Monday would be Martin Luther King Jr. Day, meaning no school. Thirteen-year-old Jack and 11-year-old Matt could lie on their pillows on the den floor, hands under their chins, and fall asleep in front of the TV. Eventually, Jack figures, their father moved them or woke them up enough to steer them to the couches.

Good thing.

At 4:31 a.m., the den turned Tilt-A-Whirl.

"I just remember waking up,” Matt says, "and the whole house shaking.”

“When the shaking began, one of the first things to fall was the TV,” Jack says. “And it actually fell right on top of the pillow where Matt was.”

The French doors exploded open. Cold water doused the boys. The backyard pool had cracked open.

Jack looked at Matt. Matt looked at Jack. They were OK.

They were stunned, but they knew what to do next. When you live in California, you know what to do in an earthquake. And the Cassels knew how to handle a crisis.

The previous year, the boys had come home to find a three- or four-year-old drowning in the backyard pool. Jack jumped in and pulled the boy out in time to be revived. When the family owned a ranch, the Cassels were awakened in the middle of the night and told to evacuate because of fires in the area. No problem.

This time, Matt and Jack ran to the kitchen, hid under the table and held onto it and each other.

"When we were under there,” Jack says, "the entire lighting and part of the ceiling in the kitchen came down on top of the table and next to us."

Meanwhile, their father, Greg, had snatched up their younger brother and sister and brought them to their mother, Barbara, in the master bedroom. Greg tried getting to the kitchen and the older boys, but the house thought differently. A column, one of those cool touches you expect when Mom is a set director, hit Greg in the leg, pinching his thigh against the wall.

“Stay there!” he yelled to the boys.

Not gonna happen. They ran over to Greg, helped free him and embraced him. Fighting through their shock and the aftershocks, the Cassels headed outside into the dark.

“Once daylight came,” Jack says, “we saw the destruction.”

They were not alone.

***

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

When the earthquake hit, Spencer Gordon’s parents split up to check on their kids. Or at least tried.

"The house was raising and lowering more than a foot at a time,” Eric Gordon says.

“It was a sensation of flying because the floor kept dropping out underneath you,” Bonnie Gordon says. "Just getting from our bed into the hallway was challenging.”

Eric tried to get to his son’s room, where Spencer and his buddy had been sleeping. But as Eric was about to exit the master bedroom, a 35-inch hulk of a TV fell off the highboy and hit him in the head. Adrenaline took over. He got right back up.

"I just shrugged it off,” Eric says, " and kept running down to Spencer’s room.”

When Bonnie made it to her daughter’s room, she tried to catch Jessica. Literally.

"My daughter was in midair when I got to her, and I caught her and threw her to my side,” Bonnie says. "My thumb got broken, and my whole side was black and blue, from the force of the impact.”

When Eric made it to to Spencer’s room, a dresser had slammed shut the other side of the door.

"I had to literally put my shoulder into his bedroom door,” Eric says, "break it to get into his bedroom.”

“He reached across everything and grabbed us and pulled us out,” Spencer says. "He had like superhuman strength.”

Eric admits being "scratched up and whacked up” from the TV. Bonnie acknowledges she didn’t get her thumb examined “for like five days.” Spencer’s thumb had been accidentally slammed in a car door a few days earlier, so he gave Bonnie his ER-supplied brace.

Because the Gordon house was livable, it became a refuge for others.

"We don’t even realize all the luxuries we have,” Spencer says, "until they’re suddenly plucked from you."

Matt Fisher’s family was about 80 miles out of town for Matt’s AAU tournament when the earthquake hit. His father, Jack, a structural inspector, awoke at 4 a.m. to head back for work. The earthquake was so powerful, it woke everyone else. Jack drove back first.

“It took three hours to get back to the house, and when I got there, it was like a bomb blew off,” Jack Fisher says. "It was like ‘The Poseidon Adventure.' If you take your house and flip it over and put it back together, that’s how it looked. There wasn’t a piece of glass or a dish or anything else that was saved. Actually, we were lucky. Where Matt slept in his bedroom, the TV fell over right where he would have been sleeping.”

The first floor, Spencer says, was gutted. Because Jack had overseen work on the second level of the house, building it well above regular standards, that was sound. So the Fishers stayed in the part of the house that Jack built. It was 900 square feet. It was a bedroom, a bathroom, a closet and some office space. For five people and the dog. It was, Spencer says, like living in a “treehouse."

John Gaps III/Associated Press

Which was better than some families had it. When Nathaniel Dunlap and his mom came home from that same tournament, he remembers driving down one street and seeing the “face” of an apartment building missing, creating a “dollhouse” effect.

At home, his father, grandmother and dog were safe. The house? The Dunlaps decided not to sleep there until it could be inspected.

"We ended up sleeping in a tent in our backyard for a few weeks,” Nathaniel says. "One tent with both my parents, my grandmother and our dog. It was a standard little tent, sleeping shoulder to shoulder.”

The Cassels spent half a year without a real home. With six in the family, with so many others rushing to find safe temporary housing, they struggled to find the right alternative. They tried different hotels, looking for one in the area that would keep four kids close to school, keep their mother and script-writing father near the TV and movie industry.

“It was a difficult time for our family,” Matt Cassel says. “But you talk about the Earthquake Kidsit was an outstanding outlet. It was an escape. At times, it was hard just going home at night, because we were on top of each other. But to be able to go to the ball yard with all your buddies and just play baseball, I loved it.”

"We could step away from living in a war zone,” Nathaniel Dunlap says, "and just be going out and playing ball.”

***

Little League was never more welcomed. The tryouts. The regular season. Normalcy. At 11 or 12, these kids could not comprehend all that their parents were enduring. The insurance claims. The cleanups. The day-to-day ordeals. But now they had baseball.

“It was on this one big area of a flat field,” says Larry Baca, who managed the Northridge Little League team and its All-Stars that year. "Even though there were quite a few aftershocks, it was like nothing could hurt them out there."

Long before there was any earthquake, this year had the feel of something special for the Northridge Little Leaguers. Some of the Northridge fathers had been telling each other that for a year or two now. And that was before some other players joined. Spencer Gordon, for instance. He and Nathaniel Dunlap helped Baca’s team win the 1994 regular-season title.

Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Dunlap

He and Dunlap also were chosen for the 14-player All-Star team. This was the team that would matter most. This was the team that would take on the world. The All-Stars were ready. When their practices began, they took a marker and proclaimed as much, making a sign of their intentions in the wooden Northridge field dugout.

“Northridge is going all the way,” it declared.

Everyone signed it.

And someone added a shot at their rivals.

“Yeah, I think it might have said something about 'Woodland Hills sucks,’” Dunlap says a bit sheepishly, knowing that’s exactly what it said, considering he still has the sign.

Justin Gentile and Nathaniel were the star pitchers of the team. Each threw a fastball and…The Agony.

"The Agony was a changeup,” Nathaniel says. "It was like a breaking ball. You grip it with your thumb and your pinky finger, and it kind of tumbles down out of your hand. It works really great from 46 feet, from the Little League distance.”

Nathaniel figured Spencer must have named it. Spencer liked to name everything and nickname everyone. Just not this time, Spencer says. He did, however, nickname Matt Cassel’s bat Susan.

"We had to handle it with care and put the bat in cases and could never throw it,” Spencer says of the Louisville Slugger metal bat. “We thought it was appropriate if we gave it a woman’s name. It would treat us well if we treat her well. It was an ugly white bat. It was horribly ugly. But Matt loved her.”

Just how much? Listen to what the Cassel brothers have to say, good naturedly sparring in separate interviews:

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Matt: "That was a special bat. We all used it, and it took on a life of its own.”

Jack: "He would sleep with the bat. He took it everywhere. He would kiss it before at-bats.”

Matt: "I never slept with the thing. Jack’s full of it. There’s lines that we all draw.”

Jack: "It’s still sitting at Mom’s house in Santa Monica. It’s so funny, my son just swung that this weekend. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old boy who we took to the beach, and we started feeding him some soft toss, and he was hitting with the bat."

Matt: "Oh, great. So I guess my mom’s just handing it out to everybody.”

Of course, Jack can’t say too much. He had his own superstitions en route to becoming a major league pitcher. Besides, the bat worked—and a lot of the Northridge players proved it.

Talent helped. Peter Tuber was the third pitcher and grandson of former National League batting champion Pete Reiser. Matt Cunningham, Matt Fisher and Michael Nesbit played minor league baseball. Cassel could have, too. The Oakland Athletics even drafted him in 2004, the year before the New England Patriots picked him.

"My idea was don’t screw up with these guys,” Baca says, "because I know the kids were good.”

George Saul would be his coach, same as during the season, same as when Baca started managing his kids in Little League in the early 1980s. They were Army buddies from Fort Lewis during the Vietnam War and the perfect complement. Baca had a wife and three kids and understood children. Saul never married and expected order.

“Larry is a very easygoing guy,” Saul says.

“He was always my hit man,” Baca says.

Now Baca and Saul were going to have to lead a group of 11- and 12-year-olds through an adventure.

Heaven help them.

***

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The Northridge team opened district play against Central Mountain.

The final score: 39-0.

There was no mercy rule back then. Baca told his players not to advance on passed balls. He felt like a bully, but what else could he do?

He didn’t realize it wasn’t just the opponent being that bad. It was Northridge being that good.

Northridge won its next two games by a combined 32-5 score.

Here came Woodland Hills. And double elimination.

"I think a lot of the boys were a little intimidated by them,” Baca says, “because they had lost to them the previous year."

Sure enough, Woodland Hills led 4-0 through five innings.

Didn't matter. Northridge won in extra innings and won the next game to advance.

The next two rounds were relatively easy. Northridge won seven games by a combined 86-21 score to reach the Western Regional. Win there, and Williamsport and the Little League World Series beckoned.

Northridge was undefeated. Its only loss, it turned out, would be its catcher.

Little League officials received an anonymous letter saying Jonathan Higashi did not live in the Northridge district. Only the losing team from the last game could protest. That would be Whittier, which had lost 11-0 in the divisional finale.

The Western Regional director apprised Merle Sanders, then-administrator of Northridge’s district, according to the Los Angeles Times in 1994. Sanders checked. Technically, the letter was true.

“I asked myself, what is my moral duty?” Sanders told the newspaper. “Based upon the way the rules were structured, my knowledge can’t be used (by Whittier).”

Apparently, there were extenuating circumstances.

"I can't remember all the details, but after the earthquake we were staying with some friends who lived in the Northridge district,” Higashi wrote in a text message. "As we were moving along in the tournament, it started to become an issue. I decided to leave the team because I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize my teammates chance of moving forward in the tournament.”

There was no forfeit. Whittier never protested. Because it was double elimination, Baca insists, Northridge would have been able to play Whittier in a rematch. Higashi could have kept playing, could have fought if another team protested later, but his father told Baca that Jonathan was stepping aside.

"The father knew the team was really good, and he didn’t want to jeopardize what was happening with the team,” Baca says. "We still took Jonathan to Williamsport with us.”

Northridge blitzed through the five Western Regionals games in San Bernardino, anyway, by a combined 56-10 tally. The only test was a 3-1 victory over a Utah team whose pitcher had so much movement on his ball that Northridge scored twice on wild pitches. Baca warned his team, now known as the Earthquake Kids, that the limelight could disappear just like that if they weren't careful.

Which brings us to Matt Cassel.

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After the Utah game, Cassel somehow tore open his finger stacking and unstacking bunk beds.

"I told all the kids don’t be fooling around,” Baca says. "There were bunk beds like in the Army, one on top of the other. They were messing with them, and Cassel cut his finger. I said, “You aren’t going to be able to play the next game.' I was pissed at him.”

"I was actually fixing a bed, and the thing collapsed on my finger,” Cassel says. “I tore it open, and I had to get some stitches. No, I wasn’t messing around. C’mon.”

Believe what you want, but the Western Regional was rough on Cassel.

“He also got stung by a bee during the opening ceremony,” Fisher says. "He couldn’t play the final game against Hawaii because of his finger. But at the end, we were winning by like nine or 10 runs, and they put him in, and the first pitch, he got hit right in the head. There was a little bit of a dark cloud over him during that tournament.”

Baca and Saul did what they could with the kids. Despite the daytime heat, they didn’t want the players swimming and tiring out for the night games, so there were a lot of movies and crossed fingers during downtime. After putting the kids to bed, Baca and Saul would escape.

"About 11,” Saul says, "I’d say, ‘OK, guys, we’re going to leave. We’re going down to the Ramada Inn to have a beer or two, take the edge off. We’re going to be back around 1 o’ clock. If you guys get in trouble, you’re going to get us in trouble, too.’"

Not that the players went to sleep, but at least they didn’t cause any real damage.

"We did the same thing in Williamsport,” George says. "That’s how we survived the kids.''

The flights to Williamsport were no joy rides, either, two men pushing 50 baby-sitting a pack of preteens sneaking drinks off beverage carts and committing other age-appropriate, inappropriate mischief that could drive Saul crazy.

He always was wary of Matt Fisher—“the instigator” who would “egg guys on, especially Cassel”—but mostly he knew he had to watch Cassel.

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Matt Fisher, right, at the Little League World Series.

****

Today’s Matt Cassel always says the right thing, always seems dignified, never causes trouble. Today’s Matt Cassel might start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, at least until the team decides it’s time to start rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Today’s Matt Cassel will do everything he can not to be a distraction.

The Matt Cassel of 1994 lived to be a distraction.

It got so bad at Williamsport that after a particularly rowdy pillow fight or wrestling match or some combination, George stormed in and pulled Cassel out of the room. Told him to take his mattress. Planned to have him sleep in the corner or outside of Saul's room.

“Of course, I’m the one who got in trouble for being the ringleader,” Cassel says, claiming he was framed.

“According to George, everything was Cassel’s fault,” Spencer says. "He just loved yelling at Cassel. Sgt. Saul. He was going to try to make an example, but he couldn’t go through with it. I think he realized as he was dragging his mattress that he didn’t want to actually be with Cassel every night so he sent him back.”

The Cassel-Saul by-play was a constant subplot for the Earthquake Kids.

“I remember him chasing Cassel down a couple times trying to get a hold of him by his T-shirt or something,” Fisher says. "I can remember going to the airports and Cassel—and probably me—had to be right next to George all the time because he didn’t want to let him out of his sight."

***

By the time they reached Williamsport, the Earthquake Kids already had beat writers from back home following them. And now media from other parts of the country were latching onto a good story that had something to do with baseball.

"There was extra attention on us,” Nathaniel Dunlap says, "because we were playing for the fun of the game."

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Jack Cassel

There already were T-shirts and headlines featuring their new moniker, and the Earthquake Kids seemed just fine with all of it. As Jack Cassel says, these are kids who grew up in Los Angeles and who were used to being around people in the spotlight.

They would go to school with kids of people on TV or in entertainment industry. Matt Cunningham’s father, Tim, who also helped coach the team, had a regular small part on “Cheers.” Hulk Hogan was married to one of Matt Fisher’s relatives.

Perhaps nobody enjoyed the media circus more than Spencer Gordon. When the players received their media forms asking a variety of questions that could possibly get on the air, Spencer decided to have some fun. The person he’d most like to meet? He chose Diamond from American Gladiators. She was one of the regulars on the cult TV show who would battle contestants in a series of events. When he was batting, Spencer says, his choice was revealed on TV.

Considering what they’d been through, why not enjoy the moment? The parents and families did, as well. Those who were there every day really weren’t grasping how big this story was becoming. Then one day, Baca took a call from a buddy at a casino.

“He called me from Vegas,” Baca says. “They normally showed a major league game on all the TVs in Vegas, and you could bet on it. Because there was no game, they showed our game."

The first-round opponent was the other media darling.

Brooklyn Center of Minnesota featured the first female to start at catcher—and the fifth girl to play—in a Little League World Series. Like Cassel, she would go on to star in a different sport. For her, it was Olympic women’s hockey.

Twenty years later, Krissy Wendell-Pohl remembers wanting to look at herself back then as just Krissy Wendell, just another catcher behind the mask and not the center of attention. She had been playing boys’ sports for years, in hockey and in baseball, so her teammates were used to her being there. She was good. She belonged.

While the Earthquake Kids were open about their situation, Krissy tired of hers. "I remember telling my dad I wish I didn’t have to talk about this anymore,” she says, and considering he was her manager, he could help shield her. Meanwhile, Larry Wendell, a Minnesota softball Hall of Famer, prepped his team about Northridge.

Krissy remembers being told this was the team to beat, that the California team usually advanced, that Nathaniel Dunlap’s 72-mph fastball from 46 feet in Little League was like a 95-mph pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches on a regulation diamond. She remembers it being a night game, the TV timeouts, the in-game interviews.

Larry Wendell let Krissy call pitches. Baca called all the pitches for Northridge, just as he had all the way through the tournament. At times, Baca had help. Remember Jonathan Higashi? Once he stopped playing, he would sit in the stands and steal signs, relaying them by hand signal to Baca and Saul.

Nothing would help Northridge in this game.

Brooklyn Center won 4-2.

Northridge now was 17-1.

"It was a shock,” Dunlap says. "I remember being pretty bummed about that.”

Because it was double elimination, nobody was going home. Krissy Wendell says that win over the mighty Earthquake Kids might have taken something out of Brooklyn Center, which didn’t win another game. Northridge, meanwhile, swept its next three games to win the U.S. championship and advance to the title game against Venezuela.

Dunlap had thrown a one-hitter in the U.S. final, so it was up to Justin Gentile to face Cesar Hidalgo, who threw everything hard. Fastball. Slider.

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In the third inning, a scoreless game was delayed for three hours, five minutes by rain, still a LLWS record. Gentile wasn’t the same when play resumed. He gave up three straight hits. He was uncharacteristically wild.

Dunlap couldn’t even finish the game. He tried to swing at a pitch, and the ball hit his thumb on the bat, breaking his thumb. He tried to finish the at-bat and struck out. He admittedly shed a few tears, calling it probably the toughest moment of the summer when he realized he had to come out, that his season was done.

The feeling spread when the game was over. Northridge lost 4-3 despite a late Spencer Gordon home run.

It was “rough," Gordon says. He remembers having to go back to the cafeteria in the barracks after the game.

"We had just gone head-to-head for the world title, and then we had dinner together,” he says. "And this guy Cesar Hidalgo came up to me, in broken English, he’s crying, and he hugged me, and he said he’d never given up a home run before. That was just amazing, the amount of respect he had, he wanted to give me a hug.”

For Matt Fisher, the emotion hit hard.

"I cried my eyes out,” he says. "My mom came into the barracks and gave me a big hug. I was pretty upset. Cassel, we were the buddies at that time, so he came over and gave me a hug.”

"It was really difficult,” Matt Cassel says. "We worked so hard and came to the pinnacle and fell a run short."

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***

The flights back home were relatively sedated. Sobering. Until ...

"Our spirits were lifted when we landed at LAX on the tarmac, and the guys that take all the luggage and work on the tarmac were holding up 'USA champs' signs,” Nathaniel Dunlap says. "It was pretty neat. As soon as got off plane, there were dozens of reporters and cameras and family members. That was before 9/11 so everyone was able to get to the gate.''

Then, there were limousines waiting for them—stocked with pizzas.

“That’s when it hit us, we were kind of minor celebrities back home,” Dunlap says. "Things wouldn’t be quite the same.”

The limousines took them to one of a series of receptions and events and parades they would enjoy in the days, weeks and months to come. Now the Earthquake Kids were seeing how much they meant to everyone.

“The local Chevrolet dealership loaned all these Corvettes to do a parade in Northridge,” Gordon says. "That’s where I met Diamond.”

Yep, Diamond.

"She came out to the parade and brought me all this signed merch and American Gladiators gear and she took pictures with us,” Gordon says. "That was amazing. And she was twice my size, by the way.”

He also had written on his LLWS form that his favorite band was the Beach Boys.

"K-Earth 101 saw that, and I got to announce 'Little Deuce Coupe' by the Beach Boys on K-Earth 101,” Gordon says of the radio station. "Funny stuff, isn’t it?”

If Baca and Saul thought they would get some separation from the Earthquake Kids, fat chance. Everywhere the Earthquake Kids were invited, they were sure to go.

The Earthquake Kids would meet with former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. They would meet then-first lady Hilary Clinton at the Burbank airport at an outing for gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown. The next year, they would meet President Bill Clinton, who spoke at California State Northridge.

"The most damaging earthquake ever recorded on our continent destroyed a great deal here when it hit a year ago,” President Clinton said at the time. "But as the mayor said, even though it shook you, it didn't break you. It didn't break your faith in the future. How else can you explain the fact that here there is a baseball team known as the Earthquake Kids?"

They would appear in a Disneyland parade and the Rose Parade. Fisher remembers Cassel being annoyed in Pasadena because the smaller players landed the few spots on the float. Cassel and the others had to walk alongsidewith Saul, as always, keeping watch.

And the Earthquake Kids got to be on The Tonight Show. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser threw them whiffle balls, but quarterback-turned-broadcaster Terry Bradshaw bad-mouthed baseball, so Jay Leno off camera convinced the kids to playfully pummel Bradshaw at the show’s end.

That delighted Spencer Gordon. He says Bradshaw had recently blown him off in a restaurant until Spencer’s dad mentioned his son’s baseball exploits. Bradshaw replied that he hated baseball but relented on the autograph. Spencer threw it away.

With the Tonight Show noogies, Spencer says, “the universe was back in alignment."

Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

***

The Earthquake Kids moved on.

Fisher still calls Cassel his best friend. Fisher now works for his dad, Jack, whose business took off after the earthquake.

"The whole economy in 1993 was really in the trash,” Jack Fisher says. “Nobody was building then. Interest rates were through the roof, and nobody had any money. After the earthquake and the damage, it put all the contractors, concrete people, anybody who had anything to do with construction, general contracting, back to work.”

Matt Cassel says whenever he does network interviews, the Earthquake Kids resurface. Even if we don’t see it, a lot of the 12-year-old remains in Cassel today.

"That’s kind of my personality,” he says. "Maybe at times I’m too reserved and keep to myself. Everybody who knows me knows I like to have a good time and I’m one of these easygoing guys. It’s fun to hear some these stories because it brings back a lot of great memories.”

Where do the Earthquake Kids fit in his memories? Cassel has been part of national championship and AFC Championship teams, but the Earthquake Kids make him think about a time when it wasn’t about expectations, when he could just play and not have everything he did scrutinized or criticized.

"It was the innocence of us not taking anything too seriously and having fun,” he says. “We were just going out and playing ball. It was so special.”

John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News

Some of the Earthquake Kids reunited in January for the actual 20th anniversary of the earthquake. Gregg Wallis couldn’t make it. He is an assistant baseball coach at Grand Canyon University and former director of baseball operations at Tennessee. He doesn’t think about his Earthquake Kids days all that much unless someone asks about it, which does happen on occasion.

"A couple of guys didn’t believe I was on the team,” he says. “My parents still have all the tapes, on VHS. I put a tape in, and iPhoned one of my at-bats and sent it to the guys."

Nathaniel Dunlap and his parents managed to save part of Earthquake Kids history. They were driving past the Northridge field one day and saw the wooden dugouts being torn down in favor of cinder block models. They stopped the car, and Nathaniel raced over to get the sign with the message that had come true. The Earthquake Kids went to Williamsport.

Even without the mementos, this was a time that the Earthquake Kids and their families cherish. 

“It’s a spot in our life,” Matt Fisher’s father says, "we’ll never forget."

 

Mike Bass was senior editor/sports for 11 years at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a former Little League baseball player in suburban Chicago. He saw the grown-up version of Matt Cassel earn the starting quarterback job for the Minnesota Vikings last season.

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