Last summer, as a 12-year-old Little Leaguer, Aron averaged 14 strikeouts per six-inning game. A powerful switch-hitter, he batted .492. In postseason all-star competition he was outrageous. He hit better than .600 and threw six straight shutouts, allowing one earned run in 60 innings. Irvine fans called him Smoke. In a one-hitter against the Utah All-Stars, relying on what catcher Ryan Jones calls his "powering fastball," he fanned 16 batters in six innings. In the game that won the Irvine All-Stars a trip to the Little League World Series, Aron went 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and a triple, stole two bases—and threw a two-hitter.
"Nice game," said Irvine manager Bob Garcia, grabbing an armful of Smoke.
"Thanks, Coach," Smoke said to Gunner.
Eleven months of the year Williamsport, Pa., is a charming and quiet town of 33,000 people. But each August, when it hosts the Little League World Series, it swarms with players, coaches, fans, umps, mascots, baseball dignitaries, Hall of Famers, TV crews and reporters. Last year most of the above descended on Aron.
"We always made a point not to treat him as a star, and now everybody's asking him how it feels to be the big star," Bob says. "I tried to keep him away from a lot of the hoopla, but after we won our first game, we were just deluged with reporters."
Glib, flashy, a barrio kid who made good, a war hero now known for burning the symmetrical streets of Irvine in a Porsche 911SC Targa, Bob took the heat off his players by entertaining the media himself. His act did not sit well with some Irvine parents. "Bob Garcia and Aron Garcia are not this whole team," said Donna Greinke, whose son Chris was Irvine's brilliant No. 2 pitcher. "Everything you hear is Garcia, but it took a whole team to get to Williamsport."
"Bob has always been the black sheep, everywhere he coached," Susie Garcia says. "His teams were too aggressive for some people, and so was he."
Chris Greinke was shutting out Indiana in the U.S. championship game—the winner would play Taiwan in the final—until he was hit by a pitch in the second inning and had to leave the game. Catcher Jones took the mound and finished up an 8-1 win. Aron slugged a three-run homer.
"Yeah, gentlemen! Beautiful!" said assistant coach Gregg Colbert. "Bring on Taiwan."
The Californians' slogan was, Catch the wave, and they certainly caught the fans' fancy. Coming into the World Series, they had outscored their last 10 opponents 88-3. They made a shambles of their Williamsport barracks, juking to their theme song, La Bamba. They boasted a melting-pot lineup that included a Filipino-American outfielder and a Vietnamese-American third baseman, but their Mexican-American pitcher, a spirited seventh-grader with a grin that turned ponytails at Vista Verde School, was the star of the show. When the team made an impromptu La Bamba video, Aron strummed the air-guitar solo.