Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: August 19, 2011
Leslie Tilves is doing her best to set up her folding chair.
She has her spot picked out along the giant hill that overlooks Lamade Stadium, site of the 2011 Little League World Series.
At 6:30 p.m., still an hour and a half before the game she's here to see will get under way.
Her floral patterned blue and white chair flaps back and forth as she positions it to stand still, battling the steep incline. She has to watch her step due to the throng of beach blankets laid out to save spots that have left her with such a small space to negotiate with.
In 30 minutes, she'll be enveloped by 41,848 people—some in folding chairs, some reclaiming their spots on those blankets, some choosing to just stand—as they cram into the grandstands and surrounding hill to watch the Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion from nearby Clinton County, Pa., take on La Grange, Ky., in their first game of this World Series.
It is a new Little League World Series attendance record. Larger estimates have come before, like the estimated 45,000 who watched Trumbull, Conn., and Chinese Taipei play in the 1989 championship game. But that was only an admittedly generous estimate to a lesser crowd than the sea of blue in Lamade on this night.
This record-breaking attendance isn't watching a championship game. It's watching the first game.
"It's definitely a confidence booster to see the whole stands filled, and the hill filled for our first game," said Brandon Miller, Mid-Atlantic first baseman. "It's amazing how many people are here."
While the majority of the teams in the tournament rack up serious frequent flyer miles, Clinton County parents and fans have only a short 25-mile drive down U. S. Route 220.
Mrs. Tilves certainly didn't mind the drive. Neither did the 40,000 or so who all came donning the same blue T-shirts, some of whom began showing up at 9 a.m. for an 8 p.m. first pitch.
"It's really great being able to represent the Williamsport area, being from so close," Mrs. Tilves, 46, said. "You can really feel the excitement when you look around and see so many people supporting the team."
Clinton County is the ninth team from the Williamsport area to make the LLWS, but the first since 1969.
Mrs. Tilves says she doesn't remember that team, but is happy to be a part of something that'll bring so many people to one location.
In the midst of preparing for a packed house, Director of Publicity Chris Downs sees the sea of blue wallpapering the hill as a sign of how far the tournament has come.
"It's a great visual representation of what it means to people, and how it gets inside their heads and gets them excited," Downs said. "These games are live on TV, but we have a large crowd of people who want to see it live in person. To have that many want to be a part of the emotion and the feel makes it a signature moment."
Those fans, like Leslie Tilves, are undoubtedly here, and they're unsettled about the outcome. It's now 9:26 p.m., and Clinton County is down 1-0 in the top of the fifth inning.
Catcher Wyatt Koch is on third with one out. A ball is hit to the pitcher, who throws to first. Koch breaks for home, but is beat by a few steps and thrown out to end the inning. Forty thousand people, standing and screaming, now sit down.
Forty thousand people for such a tight location is a handful to prepare for, and prepping that area takes a couple of twists and turns in the hours preceding the first pitch.
The game was moved from nearby Volunteer Stadium to Lamade Stadium, since Lamade has the famous hill to accommodate a larger crowd. The game was also moved from 5 p.m. into the primetime slot of 8 p.m. and opened half an hour earlier than usual. Ticket vouchers even had to be handed out to the 9,000 who packed into the grandstands so they wouldn't have to worry about losing their seat if they got up during the game.
This team—the one that sometimes may have to bat first but will always have the home field advantage as far as 40,000 fans are concerned—had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a Williamsport Crosscutters AAA game. Even that game drew a larger-than-normal crowd.
Then, on Friday, the entire team and coaching staff were invited to do a couple of promos for ESPN's SportsCenter with Nomar Garciaparra and Chris McKendry.
Clinton County manager Bill Garbrick knows his kids are enjoying their time in the spotlight, but isn't sold on their level of perspective.
"I don't know if these kids even understand it," Garbrick said before the game. "They're excited about it and having a good time, but I'm not sure if they realize how big they are yet. It'll him them some day. How many people get to do SportsCenter?"
He appreciates the support, but isn't fazed by the numbers.
"Fans or no fans, we came here to win this tournament," Garbrick said. "I think we've got a good enough baseball team that if we keep things together and keep playing as well as we have been, we're going to make a good run at it."
That's the hope of every team, domestic and international, close and from afar, here in Williamsport.
It's now 9:58 p.m. Clinton County is down to its last out and strike, still down 1-0 but with runners on second and third.
Leslie Tilves is on pins and needles, joined by her 40,000 blue-shirted brethren.
Great Lakes pitcher Griffin McLarty strikes out Landon Breon. The game is over.
Sometimes in baseball, somebody else wins. Even without the most crowd support.
Before the game, Garbrick knew his kids would handle anything thrown at them with poise.
"They've seen some big crowds," he said. "Not anything like they'll see tonight, but they're pretty good about staying focused once the game has begun."
Second baseman and son of coach Garbrick, Alex, echoed the sentiment.
"You just have to forget about the crowds and the cameras and play baseball," he said a few hours before the game. "It's great, it's like every kid's dream to play here. But you have to stay focused."
Alex and his teammates didn't win their highly-anticipated game, but they all handled their celebrity with absolute composure.
It's now 11:02 p.m. The stadium and the hill are now empty.
Clinton County plays another game tomorrow, this time against the New England Regional Champion from Cumberland, R.I.
The blue sea on the hill is expected to return.