The year was 1989, when girls playing Little League baseball was a lot less common than it is today.
Victoria Ruelas was one of the girls who was excelling at it back then. Now the Kalani swimming and diving coach, Ruelas broke new ground when she was the first American female to play in the Little League World Series and the first girl starting player and first girl pitcher. It was with the San Pedro Eastview Little League in California, when that squad went on to play in Williamsport, Pa., losing 6-3 in the semifinals to eventual U.S. and overall champion Trumbull, Conn.
Interestingly, Ruelas (known as Brucker before her marriage) and her San Pedro team defeated Pearl City 3-2 in the San Bernardino, Calif., regionals to get to the big show.
In addition to pitching, Ruelas was a first baseman and a power hitter.
“There was a girl playing for the Pearl City team, so one of us was going to the be the first (American),” Ruelas said during a recent Falcons swim practice. “She wasn’t a starter. I’ve asked around to see who it may have been, but I never found her.”
In 2010, Reulas and her husband and kids attended the LLWS regional tournament in San Bernardino, Calif., and in 2013, they went to visit the Williamsport site.
“It was the first time going back (in ’10),” she said. “I wanted to take my kids to see it. My (oldest) son was was 10 at the time. (The organizers) knew I was there and said, ‘Oh, it’s our baby. We have to introduce you on the field.’ After that, a guy came running out from the stands and said, ‘Do you remember I played against you in 1989?’ His son was playing that day.”
Reulas, who has coached Kalani to two OIA boys titles and one in girls, went on to play softball at San Jose State and also played for the San Jose Spitfires in Ladies League Baseball, a professional organization.
“My kids are competitive and my husband is a competitive person, too,” she added.
One of her competitive kids is Paulina Ruelas, a nine-time OIA swimming gold medalist for Kalani who will be moving on to swim for the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota starting in the fall. She is the subject of recent features in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (for subscribers only) and Hawaii Prep World (for free).
Ruelas teaches biology and integrated science at Kalani. She is married to Manuel Ruelas, who is in the Army. Aside from Paulina, 18, their kids are Pablo, now 19, and Samuel, 13.
Another story, this one about the Spitfires and Ladies League Baseball, appeared on MetroActive.com and includes a photo of Ruelas and some teammates.
Victoria Roche of Belgium was the first girl to play in the LLWS. She was a reserve outfielder in 1984.
Victoria Ruelas recalls a story from 1988 of an unfortunate incident that may have eventually helped her get a spot on the 1989 San Pedro Eastview team. She learned part of the story recently from one her coach’s emails.
“Every year the league picked more than 13 and did a week of so of practice to make the final cut,” Ruelas said. “So, knowing we had a strong group of 11-year-olds, the whole week of tryouts parents were bugging coach to cut the girl and make sure their sons were on the team, saying things like I wouldn’t be tough enough or that I might cry if things didn’t work out the way I wanted them, too, etc. Well, the day before selections were to be made, we had a bunting session in the cage and I took one (pitch) off the bat and into the face. It split open my upper lip and the coaches ran over and eventually had my mother take me to the ER. He thought I made his job easier as he would have to cut me now, since I was sure not to come the next day to hear his final selections. Instead, he found my mother and I sitting in the stands early the next day to make sure we heard what he had to say. He asked if I was OK and I told him I was ready to go.
“I had a swollen upper lip with stitches on the inside, but I was ready to play. When he saw this, he told himself, now how could he cut someone who was that tough? And just like that, I made the team. And although I didn’t play much that year, it paved the way for the year to come. And the rest is history.”
Victoria Ruelas and her OIA champion Falcons team, including daughter Paulina, is competing at the K. Mark Takai/HHSAA State Swimming and Diving Championships at Kihei, Maui, with the finals this afternoon.