From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Like a lot of Little Leaguers, 12-year-old Chris Cardone of Toms River, N.J., hated being out of the action. "Practice hard," his father, Bill, 45, an elementary school principal, told him when the seventh-grader found himself on the sidelines, "and when your coach gives you an opportunity to play, you take advantage of it." Rarely has fatherly advice been heeded so well. Coming off the bench in the Aug. 29 final game of the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., the 4'10" outfielder pounded two home runs to help lift the Toms River team to a 12-9 victory over Kashima, Japan, making them the first U.S. world champs since Long Beach, Calif., in 1993. Says Chris: "I was on top of the world."

Right next to him up there was 5'2" shortstop and pitcher Todd Frazier, 12, who had some fatherly advice ringing in his ears too. "My dad [high school vice principal Charles] tells me to have fun and play hard," he says. "And whatever happens, happens." Seventh-grader Frazier proceeded to hit .600 for the series and dominated the title game, leading off with a home run and pitching the final two innings. "I'm just a parent coaching Little League," says manager Mike Gaynor, 47, a partner in a sneaker chain. "I've been blessed."

Baseball is so popular in middle-class Toms River (pop. 84,199) that some 2,000 kids play in two separate leagues. The victorious 12-player all-star squad turned down an invitation to a Yankees game the day after their win, preferring to head home to several thousand fans waiting at the league complex to cheer them. "When they left three weeks ago, we were sending out little boys," says Bill Cardone. "But they were coming back young men."