Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Scott Long, Sharon Winner and Craig Willitis showed up at 3 p.m. The Calhouns stepped in line about 4:30. Gary Barner and John Truax, too. Janie Koss and Cathy Traister, well, unlike the others they already had tickets, so they only waited in an entry line for a little over three hours to get into the game.
What game, you ask? The Little League Baseball World Series, of course.
Thought the championship game wasn’t for another couple days? You’re right. All these people – all 28,367 of them – they’re all here to see a Monday night elimination contest between the Mid-Atlantic and the Southwest. And the traffic jam probably stretches all the way back to Clinton County itself.
Young and old, friends and neighbors, teachers, coaches, townsfolk – you name 'em, they’re here.“The town is pretty much empty, most of them are here,” said Lock Haven, Pa., resident Chad Calhoun, balancing in a catcher’s stance over six-year-old son Kahl, curled up on a blanket on the walkway. “Every business has Keystone Little League signs in the windows, there’s a big banner stretching across Main Street. There’s always someone talking about it.”
Think Texas high school football… with 12-year-olds.
You see, for the families, friends and followers of the other 15 little league teams, making it all the way to Williamsport is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them as well. It’s a bucket list kind of thing.
But for the families, friends and thousands of followers on hand Monday night to root on the Mid-Atlantic champs from Keystone Little League, that just isn’t the case. In fact, for these people, attending a Little League World Series game isn’t so much a pipe dream as a yearly occurrence.
“I come every year,” said Long, a spectator at Monday night’s contest. “It’s just fun.”
But this year… this year is different. So different it hasn’t happened since 1969, when Newberry Little League made the 4.3-mile trek to Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Blain Kunes Memorial Park, the home field of the Mid-Atlantic reps located in the seat of Clinton County, Pa., is just 28 miles from the shimmering lights of South Williamsport and the annual home of the most famous and sought after youth sporting event in the world.
It was like a moth to flame. More accurately, it was like an overwhelming blot-out-the-sun swarm of moths to 100-foot tall stadium lights. And for the first time, possibly ever, they had to wait in line.
John Truax, 68 (“almost 69”), has attended the Little League World Series since he was seven years old and arrived at Lamade Stadium around 4:30 p.m. He’s about halfway back in the line and standing right in front of Kahl Calhoun, who is a bit newer to the LLWS scene. At six, Kahl’s pretty sure he will be here in uniform himself one day, and he has convinced his dad to wait in line to get passes into the stadium for every Mid-Atlantic game in 2011. Admittedly, though, father Chad says it didn’t take much to get him to agree.
The pair has been following the team since states.
“We normally come down here every year anyway, but with the local team in, it’s gonna be an every night thing I think,” says Chad. “We’re not gonna miss any of it.”
Others have a reason a bit closer to the heart than sheer proximity and opportunity. Take Gary Barner, for instance. Barner is the President of Long Run/Mill Hall Youth League, one of the three “feeder” teams that make up the Keystone All-Stars. A fireman by day, this elimination game is the first he’s been able to get to in the 2011 Series due to a previous commitment to a fire training program. Trebor Nicodemus and Mitchell Smith played for Long Run before joining the Keystone team for the all-star season.
Then there’s Scott Long, who was first in line for Section 5’s leftfield bleacher seats. It was the same line where Kahl and Chad Calhoun, Gary Barner and John Truax were waiting, and by now it wound from the gate to the outfield fence and snaked back around the front the stadium, where the line and the crowd became one and the same. Long is an umpire in the Keystone League and was part of the umpiring crew that called this All-Star team’s games in the District 12 tournament.
“It’s so neat to see them now,” he said. “You see the best little league baseball players in the world here. There’s no better place than this.”
Neither have quite the connection of the Miller sisters, though. Connor, 14, and Tierra, 20, have dedication down to a tee, particularly when it comes to this Clinton County crowd. They’ve traveled all over the east coast watching these boys play – including up to Bristol, Conn., and back – and are thrilled to have them so close to home again and still playing ball.
So thrilled that they weren’t going to take any chances on not getting the best seats possible nor on Little League’s stock of Mid-Atlantic paraphernalia selling out.
“We were here Friday before the gift shops opened at 9 a.m.,” said Tierra, who is from Lock Haven, Pa., and has known many of these Keystone Little Leaguers since they were young. She bought three shirts from the gift shop the second it opened.
“I need one to wear, one to hang on the wall, and what if one gets ruined?”
The Miller sisters, along with friends Abby Beard and Justin Seyler, were in line at 10 a.m. for Pennsylvania’s first game on Friday and were found again near the front of the line Monday donning Keystone shirts, ready to add to the sea of blue that was about to take over Lamade Stadium.
And then there are the few even closer to the team than that. The moms.
“It’s just overwhelming,” said Madeline Smith, mother of leftfielder Mitchell
Smith. “They’ve had a tremendous amount of support from districts all the way
through. No matter where we went, from local all the way to Bristol, they’ve had
followers. And to come here and see this crowd – it’s just amazing.”
“It’s neat to see that Little League Baseball can do this for community.”
There are many more stories like this permeating the grounds of the Little League World Series.
There’s Gil Lenio, a 22-year World Series usher veteran from Levittown, N.Y., who roots for Pennsylvania teams to make the cut over his own native Empire State. (“I always root for the team from Pennsylvania [to make it here] because these people, these fans, they are great people. It’s been so great.”) There is retired Liberty Curtin Elementary School teacher Janie Koss, who taught shortstop Talon Falls in first grade. She’s with Lock Haven University professor Cathy Traister, who grew up and lives just half a block away.
These stories are just a fraction of the more than 34,000 who have attended, on average, Pennsylvania’s three Series games. Stories that come with signs, dressed Mid-Atlantic t-shirts from the gift shop or cursive “Keystone” baseball tees made somewhere around town.
Keystone is their name and baseball is their game, as another shirt says. And possibly no other fans from any other town could wear a shirt quite so appropriate.