The Mexico Little League team that shocked the world

From the modest sandlots of Monterrey to the only LLWS perfect game

April 27th, 2023
Photo via Jose Maiz. Art by Tom Forget

It's been nearly 70 years, but pitcher José "Pepe" Maiz García recalls his team's wondrous 1957 Little League World Series run like it was yesterday. It seems to be something that's just constantly replaying through his head.

"Our coach Cesar Faz would always tell us, 'You have to have fun,'" Maiz, now 78, remembered. "Play to have fun. Play to have fun. He never pressured us. He just let us play."

The group of 11- and 12-year-olds from a factory-sponsored team on the sandlots of Monterrey took that to heart.

They won 14 straight games in two different countries and three different states to become the first non-U.S. team to take home the Williamsport title. Star pitcher Ángel Macías pitched the first, and still only, perfect game in the final. It's a historic season that's since been made into a movie and, as Maiz notes, helped Mexico -- a country already in love with baseball -- fall in love with the game all over again.

"We had one Little League in 1956, 1957," Maiz said. "We have 62 now in our state and 220 in our country."

Back in 1957, the Little League program was brand new to Monterrey, Mexico.

The city had only been a part of the organization since the year before in 1956. There were four teams -- sponsored by local factories -- that played a 16-game season. An All-Star team made up of the best players was then chosen to represent Monterrey in the Little League World Series in '57.

The 14 kids practiced from 4-8 p.m. every night together for a month and then, after two exhibition wins in Monterrey, they were ready to start Series play in Texas. Almost right away, even within their own city, the team was considered heavy underdogs.

Most had never left Monterrey -- especially without their parents. They were also undersized -- averaging about 4-feet-11 in height and 35 pounds lighter than most of their future opponents. And unlike some of the American teams they'd face, many of the kids were from poor backgrounds -- some even using homemade gloves and equipment.

"We played on fields that had no grass; stones and broken glass," Maiz told me. "The [ball] rolls were not so easy."

Expectations were so low that the team was only given a three-day visa to visit the United States.

Still, with an eternally optimistic coach in factory worker Cesar Faz and very little pressure (some didn't even know what tournament they were playing in or what Williamsport was), Los Pequeños Gigantes -- the Little Giants -- headed to their first stop: A subregional tournament in McAllen, Texas. They took a bus to border town Reynosa and walked across a bridge over the Rio Grande. They trekked another 12 miles to the area they'd be staying.

“We crossed the border walking and carrying the bats,” Maiz told the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. “We started to ask for a lift and they drove us to a motel that was called Rio Grande Courts.”

Even after that arduous journey to just get to Game 1, Monterrey immediately began defying the odds on the field.

They won five games in a row -- crushing All-Star teams from Mexico City, McAllen, Mission, Wesalaco and West Brownsville. Pepe pitched his team to a 7-1 victory in one of the games, while star hurler Ángel Macías won two of the matchups by scores of 13-1 and 14-1.

"Angel Macías had a very good fastball and a very good 12-6 curve," his rotation mate told me. "We called it 'The Drop.'"

Because they kept winning, the Mexican ambassador to the United States had to intervene to extend the team's visas. Still, Team Monterrey had only prepared for a three-day stay in McAllen and had little clothes or money.

"We had lots of problems," Maiz said. "No money for eating. We were in a very small motel. We'd hold our hats out after the game and the fans would help us with some coins or dollar bills. That'd help us to eat in the restaurant. And the owner of the restaurant would charge us just 50 percent of the bill."

Pepe recalled one instance that really stood out: In the McAllen motel, his roommate, catcher Norberto Villarreal, was sleeping on the floor instead of the queen-sized bed. Villareal had never slept in a bed before -- it wasn't comfortable for him. It made Pepe realize the humble upbringing many of his teammates had, and brought him closer to Villareal and the other 14 kids. They may not have had their family or enough clothes or money, but they had each other. That's all they needed.

"We were all together," Maiz said. "The same."

The team moved on to Corpus Christi to a regional tournament.

Here, because they were housed on a Navy base, they were well taken care of. They had access to a buffet, they slept in the bunk area with the Marines and, well, they kept piling up the victories. Monterrey won the first game, 5-0, and the second, 6-0. Enrique Suarez -- also the team's cleanup hitter -- won the first game on the mound, while Macías won the second.

Next up was the Texas State Tournament in Fort Worth. Once again, the kids stayed in military barracks and, once again, they came out victorious after two games. They had their closest win thus far with a 6-4 victory over a Houston All-Star team (Pepe came in to get the save), and then Macías shut down Waco, 11-2.

A team from Monterrey, Mexico, was Texas State Champions.

Their offense, their pitching, their defense were all clicking together in every single contest. The latter was helped by something that, at the outset, most might've thought could work against them: Those very rough-looking Monterrey sandlots they'd practiced on. They'd seen all kinds of bad hops back home and these Texas fields were, as far as they were concerned, perfect.

"When we went to the States and we played at McAllen, we were just happy to play on grass," Maiz told me. "We had never played on grass, only on dirt."

The 1957 Monterrey Little League team

Still, they needed to win a couple more games at the South Regional Championship in Kentucky to get to Pennsylvania. A plane was sent for them and they arrived in Louisville for a two-game series to try to become champions of the South. The Little Giants, once again, dominated.

"We played against Biloxi, Mississippi, and, well, I got lucky that day," Maiz said. "The bases were loaded and I hit a home run and we went up 5-0. We won 13-0."

Macías pitched a one-hitter the next day against Lexington to give his team a 3-0 win and a trip to Williamsport -- representing The South Region of the United States. As you might imagine, the underdogs from south of the border had begun to capture the fascination of America.

"After they saw us play and they saw that we were winning, I think people were very kind," Maiz said. "We were very short, very skinny, very little, and I think that people felt something for us."

That buzz for Monterrey was apparent as soon as the team arrived in Williamsport. But like in every other game that month, they were still not favored to win against a much bigger, broader team from Bridgeport, Conn. -- a group of boys representing the East Region of the U.S.

The size difference was apparent when Monterrey had to sport new "South" uniforms; the pants went almost up to their shoulders.

"The small guys, over their heads," Maiz laughed.

When asked if they were afraid of their Connecticut opponents, Maiz recalls shortstop Gerardo Elizondo saying, "No, we're not going to pick them up. We're going to play them."

That proved to be a much easier task for the undersized Giants. They won, 2-1, to advance to the finals.

The championship would be against an equally dominant (and again, much larger) team from La Mesa, Calif. Monterrey watched them dominate in their semifinal game against a team from Michigan, 7-1. Lefty starter Joe McKirahan struck out 15 and hit two homers, not just over the fence, but over a little mountain behind the fence. McKirahan was ineligible to pitch in the title game, but still, Pepe says his team was scared -- although they wouldn't say it out loud. La Mesa felt confident going into the matchup.

“They were warned that we were the great big California team and they were the little Mexican team," McKirahan told the Orange County Register years later. "We were bigger than they were and supposed to kill them."

As expected, Coach Faz called on Macías to pitch against La Mesa. Pepe would be second in relief. Ten thousand fans showed up to see the David vs. Goliath matchup, many curiously rooting for this little factory team from way down south.

"We didn't feel like we were at home because we were alone, but really, they treated us very, very good," Maiz remembered.

The two sides matched zeroes for four innings, and then, in the fifth, Monterrey struck. On a hit by pitch, bunts, some daring baserunning and some key hits -- including a big RBI double by Pepe -- the Giants took a 4-0 lead. That was all their hero starting pitcher needed.

Macías relied heavily on his drop ball to baffle La Mesa hitters. He struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced and didn't allow a hit or walk (or even a ball out of the infield). His fielders behind him made no mistakes.

“We were coming back to the dugout with that deer-in-the-headlights look,” La Mesa's Lew Riley said.

By the end of six innings, Macías had delivered the first and only perfect game in LLWS history -- a fitting final note on an improbable tournament run.

"When I came running into home plate, Angel was already in the air," Maiz said. "All the players, all the people that came to the game were rushing him."

Although they wanted to go back to Monterrey right away -- none of their family members were at the final game -- the team, which had become the darlings of America, was sent on a mini victory tour.

They traveled to New York for a Cardinals-Dodgers game -- given $40 each to buy some much-needed new clothes at Macy's beforehand. The kids hung out and talked with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Stan Musial.

"Oh, it was beautiful for us," Maiz said, his eyes still lighting up when thinking of the moment seven decades later.

Then, President Dwight Eisenhower called on the LLWS champions for a quick visit. The team met Eisenhower, had lunch with Vice President Richard Nixon and talked to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson.

"I don't know, we're probably the only people to see three presidents of the United States in three days," Maiz told me. "Incredible."

The Monterrey team visits the White House

They went from D.C. to Mexico City to meet the Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos. After three or four days, they finally made their way back home to Monterrey.

"When we were coming in the plane from Mexico City to Monterrey, the captain said, 'Hey, there's a lot of people waiting for you,'" Maiz recalled. "There were 350,000 people from the airport to downtown waiting for us."

At that time in Monterrey, the total population was about 610,000.

Not until the team saw the crowds -- more than half their country coming out to welcome them home after an against-all-odds tournament run -- did they fully realize what they had done.

Although almost the entire '57 team, including Pepe, had aged out, Monterrey incredibly won the LLWS title again in '58. They had a little more backing and a little more money and, after what they'd done a year earlier, much higher expectations.

None of the players from the '57 team played in MLB, although Macías was signed by the Angels and spent years in the Mexican League. Pepe had a chance to sign with the Giants, but instead, at his father's urging, went to work for his father's construction company. He still runs that company today and he's still, of course, very involved in the game that he loves.

He's the National Director of Little Leagues in Mexico and has been president of the Mexican League Monterrey Sultanes for 41 years. The game has grown leaps and bounds over the years in the country -- with expanded youth leagues, multiple MLB games in Monterrey, Mexico's recent success in the WBC and, most recently, the 2023 Mexico City Series between the Giants and Padres.

Maiz believes much of that fervor and passion for the sport can be traced back to that magical run a bunch of middle-school aged kids went on 66 years ago. It's a feeling and a memory he can hold on to forever.

"God has given me many many things I've never imagined," Maiz said. "That's more than enough for me."

José "Pepe" Maiz García with his Monterrey jersey