BILLINGS — Kade Christianson has been thinking a lot lately about the summer of 1987.
Christianson was a member of the Billings Heights National All-Star team that won the Majors 11-12 Little League state tournament and advanced to the Western Regional Tournament in San Bernardino, California.
Fast forward 32 years later and Christianson is an assistant coach for this year’s Heights National 11-12 Majors All-Star baseball team that captured the state tourney and will represent Montana at the Northwest Regional in San Bernardino, Aug. 4-10.
“Oh, yeah it’s going to be cool to go back as a coach and look back on a lot of it,” Christianson said. “It will be a different perspective being a player vs. a coach.”
Christianson said the trip to San Bernardino as a youth was a highlight of his childhood.
“It was a blast,” Christianson recalled from the dugout at Chirrick Field on Tuesday evening while this year’s Heights National All-Stars were practicing. “There were a lot of firsts; first plane ride and first major league game and first time ever seeing an ocean.”
Photos from a practice at Chirrick Field as the Heights National All Star Little League team prepares for regionals in San Bernardino, Calif.
When Christianson was a member of the Heights team that won the state title with a 22-4 win over Great Falls Riverside, his father Loren Christianson, was a coach on the team. Now, Kade is helping to coach his son Brady and 12 other players.
“It’s very exciting,” Kade said. “We’ll have those same memories as I had with my dad and to be able to spend the time and have those same memories with my son.”
Brady, a 12-year-old first baseman and pitcher, said he’s talked with his dad about the 1987 team. Kade, who later went on to become a member of the Billings Royals and helped that club win a State AA Legion title in 1992, recalled his team had a 0-2 record at the regional. However, it’s not only about the wins and losses at a Little League regional.
“He’s told me that it’s fun and that it is something to be proud of and to just go play ball and have fun,” Brady said.
Kade said he still keeps in contact with several of his old teammates. He smiled as he recalled more memories from the trip.
“Besides the Major League Baseball game, the coolest thing we did when I went down was Disneyland,” he said. “A lot of it is just spending time with your friends and meeting new people and trading pins.”
Christianson explained trading hat pins with other teams is a Little League tradition at tournaments.
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“Each district has a pin. That is one of the big things for the kids,” he said. “My dad was lucky. He still collects pins and is known as the Pin Guy around here. He actually brought some down last night and showed the kids and talked to them.”
Brady said he is looking forward to trading pins with the Alaska state champion. Heights National will play its first game at the regional against Sitka, Alaska, on Sunday at 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.
“I have a T-shirt hung up in my room with all my pins on it,” Brady said.
Little League tradition also calls for a parade of teams and a barbecue will be held for all of the teams and the players’ families the first night.
“It’s an awesome deal for the kids,” Kade said.
Mary Margret Williams’ son Anthony, is another member of the Heights National team. Mary played on a Heights National Little League softball state champion team that played in a regional tournament in Soldotna, Alaska, in the mid 1980s.
“We had the greatest time,” she recalled while watching the Heights National team practice on Tuesday. “We actually thought we were good when we were here and then we got beat the first two games, bad.
“It was a great trip and still to this day the girls we played with still stay in touch. The friendships you make, all the girls’ families went. We went on a fishing boat.”
Mary Margret said the Heights National team will remember this trip for the rest of their lives.
“They will have a wonderful time,” she said. “The memories and friendships, when I look back as an adult I remember that.
“These guys are all buddies. They all like each other and hang out. I think that’s why they are as good as they are.”
Kade Christianson said it has been a pleasure coaching this year’s team.
“They impress us all the time,” he said. “They keep getting better and better. They are a great group of kids and fun to work with. You couldn’t find a better group of boys or parents to be around.”