A typical Little League team might feature a few eventual varsity high school players. A stronger team might have a couple of college players, maybe even a player who gets drafted.
But a roster that features two MLB mainstays and another player reaching Triple-A? This is the story of the most stacked championship-winning team in Little League history.
The team in question is the 2004 10-12 year-old squad from Pabao Little League, located in Willemstad, Curaçao. Curaçao is a Dutch Caribbean island, located just north of Venezuela. They won that year’s Little League World Series, becoming the first, and still only, LLWS champion from the Caribbean.
Profar has been in the big leagues since making his debut with the Rangers in 2012. The OF/SS is one of eight position players in the 21st century to play an MLB game before turning 20, joining Wilson Betemit, Jose Reyes, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Juan Soto. Profar has started at least 135 games in each of the past four full seasons, and he is currently in his first year with the Rockies.
A fellow middle infielder, the second baseman is currently in his 11th MLB season, and fourth with the Tigers. Schoop was an All-Star in 2017 with the Orioles, and though he does not yet have any Gold Glove awards to his name, he handily led MLB with 27 Outs Above Average in 2022.
While not as recognizable as the prior two names, he signed with the Rangers organization as a teenager, and reached as high as Triple-A in 2015. He last played in the Minor Leagues in the 2017 season, and is now a competitive track and field sprinter.
The origin story
What was the genesis for such a talented roster? Curaçao can thank a man roughly 15 years older than any of the players in question -- Andruw Jones.
While Jones himself never played for Pabao Little League, he did grow up in Willemstad, from where he was signed by the Braves organization at age 16 in 1993. Three years later, Jones was called up to the big leagues, becoming a core part of the Braves’ run to the World Series. He thrived in that postseason, becoming the first (and still only) teenager to homer in a World Series game -- and, all the while, inspiring a generation of Curaçaoan kids behind him.
"Everyone wants to play baseball in Curaçao -- they look up to Andruw Jones," Schoop told MILB.com in 2013. "Every kid wants to go to the Little League World Series, every kid wants to be a pro one day and make it to the big leagues.”
“Only Andruw Jones [was my hero growing up]. He was it for us,” Profar told ESPN in 2019. “We met him when we won the Little League World Series … after that series, then I could say, ‘I can make it.’”
In Jones’ wake, Pabao has been an absolute hotbed for baseball talent. In addition to the aforementioned Profar and Schoop, other notable MLB players to hail from the league include Kenley Jansen, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius and Jair Jurrjens, all of whom are also currently in their 30s and, therefore, part of the “Andruw Jones generation.”
Such thorough talent led to Pabao making an unprecedented seven consecutive LLWS appearances from 2003 to ‘09. For those relatively unfamiliar with the LLWS format, this means that not only was Pabao the best league in its own nation, but that it also had to win the Caribbean Region, featuring the national champions from places including but not limited to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Aruba, seven years in a row.
If we expand from Pabao to instead look at the landscape of baseball in Curaçao as a whole, the accomplishments don’t become any less impressive. Despite a population that has hovered around 150,000 to 160,000 people for most of the 21st century, the island nation has had 14 players appear in MLB since 2000, the highest per capita rate of any country in the world, according to the L.A. Times.
Much of that, of course, is due to Jones’ remarkable influence. According to the L.A. Times, there were about 200 youths playing organized baseball in Curaçao in 1993 (the time of Jones’ signing with the Braves). By 1996, that number had grown to 1,000.
The championship run
Eight years after Jones’ MLB World Series appearance, Pabao had a LLWS roster littered with eventual professional talent. But despite the abundance of said talent, the 2004 championship didn’t come easily for the little island that could.
In one of its three LLWS pool play games, Pabao eked out a 3-2 win against Nuevo Leon Little League (Mexico), though both teams advanced to the knockout stage anyway. Then, in the first game of that knockout stage, Pabao was on the brink of elimination like never before.
Pabao faced Shou-Tien Little League from Chinese Taipei -- a nation which had proven itself to be an LLWS powerhouse, having won 17 titles (most of any non-American country). Pabao trailed 8-4 entering the bottom of the sixth and final inning, but then it was Jonathan Schoop time. The eventual MLB All-Star had a game-tying two-run single in the sixth, then threw a scoreless inning in the seventh, before hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to clinch an improbable 9-8 extra-innings win.
“I need a time machine,” Schoop quipped to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2018, reflecting on the memories of that tournament. “I enjoyed it a lot. We were having fun. It’s a big deal when you’re a kid, but there’s no pressure. It’s fun.”
Following a more comfortable semifinal win in a rematch against Nuevo Leon, Pabao found itself against another Little League titan in the championship game: California. More specifically, Conejo Valley Little League from Thousand Oaks, a team that had gone a combined 22-0 across the tournament’s various stages up to that point.
But when the stage was the biggest, Pabao’s eventual MLB stars shined brightest. Schoop had an RBI single in the top of the first inning for the game’s first run, and Profar knocked him in with a two-run home run in the same inning for a quick 3-0 lead.
Behind a strong pitching outing from Carlos Pineda (who proceeded to play at Luther College, a Division III school in Iowa), Pabao never trailed the rest of the way. Conejo Valley threatened by getting the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, but Schoop closed it out on the mound to seal a 5-2, world championship win.
“I didn’t even cover the bag, I was so excited. I just raised my hands. Thank God, the first baseman was fast enough to get (to the bag),” Schoop said in 2018 about that game’s final out. “The best day of my life.”
Since Profar and Garia were only 11 years old in 2004, they were eligible to return again in 2005, when Pabao came up agonizingly short of a repeat LLWS title. After winning the international bracket, Pabao led West Oahu Little League (Hawaii) 6-3 entering the bottom of the sixth, before West Oahu rallied to tie the game in the sixth and then win on an extra-innings walk-off home run by Michael Memea.
As such, the 2004 squad stands alone as the only Caribbean LLWS champion.
The legacy lives on
But the circle of life has continued from there, as players like Profar and Schoop who were inspired by Jones have since grown up and kept the island’s strong baseball tradition alive by passing it forward to the next generation.
“[Youth baseball] boomed after Curaçao started going to the Little League World Series,” Fermin Coronel, a former Dutch naval officer who coaches and works part-time as a scout in Curaçao, told the L.A. Times. “That was the switch.”
If recent trends are any indication, that next generation of Curaçaoan ball players isn't too shabby. Remarkably, in each of the past three LLWS in which non-American teams were eligible -- 2019, 2022 and 2023 -- Pabao won the entire international bracket. (There was no LLWS at all in 2020, and the 2021 edition only included American teams due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.) The 2019 team included Profar’s younger brother Jurdrick, who became the third Profar brother to participate in the LLWS with Pabao.
In 2023, Pabao coincidentally faced off against another Los Angeles-based team in the overall tournament championship, just like it did in 2004. This time, the opponent was El Segundo Little League, which used a walk-off home run from Louis Lappe to earn an instant classic 6-5 victory.
As such, even with all of the success that Pabao has had, there remains only one team that has gone all the way to win the entire LLWS tournament. Approaching two decades since that title run, even as Profar and Schoop have succeeded playing professional ball at the world’s highest level, the memories of their magical summer have not faded one bit.
“Everything. Pitching. Hitting. Hitting a home run in the final,” Profar told ESPN in 2019 about his favorite memory from the tournament. “Coming to the U.S. for the first time and enjoying playing on grass for the first time. Playing in front of thousands of people for the first time.”
"Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to do good, and when things don't go your way, you press, you press, you press. In Little League, you just have fun and enjoy the game, and everything takes care of itself,” Schoop said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2018. “That's why sometimes we've got to remind ourselves to play the game like you were in Little League.”