As I walked into the park, I couldn’t wait to see the famous Lamade Stadium and how many people were on the hill. The answer was about 22,000, and it was still two and a half hours away from the start of the Clinton County, Pennsylvania game.
However, as excited as I was to be there and see the start of the game, I wanted to get to the gift shop. I wanted to get myself a hat and jersey for the West (Ocean View Little League of Huntington Beach, California). I chose West because after watching every regional championship game, this team stood out to me as the team to beat. Coincidentally, after my purchase I ran into some of the players from the West team on my way back over to Lamade Stadium. I told them they were my early favorite and took time to pose for a picture with them. I’ll come back to the West team a little later, but for now let’s go in order of my experience.
When the hometown Clinton County, Pennsylvania took the field, it sounded like a whole kingdom was cheering on their rulers. The constant roar of the sea of blue was energizing all of the players on the field. Even though the Rhode Island team had a large contingent of fans, they couldn’t drown out the noise of 40,000. Little League hill was a Keystone blue hill to say the least. After the game, which was won 2-0 by Clinton County, we drove to our hotel in a town called Lock Haven. It looked just like any other small town except this little town was in the heart of Clinton County, 29 miles away from the home of Little League baseball. There were signs on every store reading “Good luck Keystone!” and “Good job Keystone!” all over the town. Even the McDonalds had a sign that said “Gone for Keystone game.” It’s amazing how a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys can bring a community together.
On Day 2 we were fortunate to get there early enough to secure a spot in left-center field with a perfect view. With chairs in place, it was over to Volunteer Field. There, I was able to watch Venezuela beat Canada 8-0. The fireworks started when Yonny Hernandez hit an absolute shot over the left-center field wall. The home run was barehanded by a man on his cell phone. The next batter, Neil Prieto, hit one even further over the right center field wall. Hernandez then came back up later in the game and hit yet another home run. Venezuela would finish third in the international bracket.
Northwest vs. Southwest at Lamade Stadium was the next game. It was pouring rain, but while my family ran for cover I would not give up my spot on the hill to go stay dry in the stands. The decision would pay off as Ben Askelson of Big Sky Little League (Billings, Montana) crushed a 3-D (from my point of view) double down the left field line. Lafayette, Louisiana put up a fight in the last inning, but a base running error ended the game with Montana taking the win.
I had four hours to kill before the West’s game vs. Great Lakes. So what did I do to pass time? I slid down the famous Little League hill. You know the one you see on TV with kids covered in mud. After a little clean up it was back to Volunteer. It was still a little longer before the West took the field. To kill more time, I went over to get a free Frosted Flakes sample and a picture with Tony the Tiger. After I finished my cereal, I noticed that former MLB players Nomar Garciaparra and Orel Hershiser were signing autographs, so I went to go take a picture in front of them. After that, it was over to watch the West warm up. I couldn’t stop watching the insanely long and crisp game of catch being played by first baseman Nick Pratto and middle infielder Trevor Windisch. The West’s starting pitcher for the game was Hagen Danner. He pitched three of the games four innings as The West beat Great Lakes 10-0 in a game cut short due to the 10-run mercy rule.
This was a great experience. What I took away from it was that a little bit of history can make things much more enjoyable. I was lucky enough to see some very good games and a lot of super talented young baseball players. My advice to any team trying to get to the Little League World Series: Keep your head up no matter what, and always believe that you can do it. Something like that doesn’t happen without every single player being a contributor and a team player. Every player must work hard and have fun the whole time that they’re in the competition. This is exactly what the Western Regional champions did. Congratulations to Ocean View Little League on the Little League World Series title.