Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012
As the Fairfield, Conn., Little League team from the New England region continues its journey in the Little League World Series, they can appreciate the success of the Little League program in Fairfield. Manager Bill Meury said that every town goes through cycles.
If that's the case, Fairfield is currently experiencing a very productive cycle. This is their second time participating in the Little League World Series in the past three years, having already participated in 2010.
In 2010, New England won their first game over the Northwest, but proceeded to lose their following two games against the Southwest and Northwest. In 2011, while they didn't make it all the way to South Williamsport, they advanced to the semifinals of the New England Regional tournament, where they lost to eventual champions Cumberland, R.I., Little League.
After all this success that the program has been having, you would think that there would be an uptick in interest, and manager Meury confirmed this. He said the enrollment in the program is at an all-time high and because of the recent success of the team, kids realize that it is not outside the realms of possibility.
After all, there is always a chance that you can make it to the Little League World Series, as proven by the team from Lugazi, Uganda that is here for the first time and became the first team ever from Africa to appear in South Williamsport.
Besides the increase of enrollment in their program, the New England team received lots of support from former teams, local businesses, and even a call from current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who the kids spoke in Japanese too, according to manager Meury. The team also received support from local towns and businesses in Connecticut. One local restaurant in Connecticut, Colony Grill, sent 20 pizzas to the team.
Manger Meury said both the 2010 and 2011 teams reached out to this year's team as well. He said the 2011 team has been giving his players lots of advice through emails. Meanwhile, the 2010 team came to this year's final practice in Bristol, Conn., before they traveled to South Williamsport.
"It's really fun playing on such a nice field."-- New England player Will Lucas
Even with all the support, a team still needs to have chemistry. No matter how much talent a team may have, if the team doesn't have players that get along and have fun together, it makes it tough to win. That is no worry for New England, seeing as eight to 11 of the players have been playing together since they were 9-years-old.
Looking towards the future, manager Meury said in order to survive in this tournament, you need to have good pitching and you have to "keep the game in control."
In the early going of the tournament we have certainly seen that to be the case, as multiple teams have used good pitching to win their games. On opening day, Tokyo, Japan, Little League's two pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts in a 7-0 win over the Caribbean. Later in the day, Europe beat Asia-Pacific and the Midwest beat the Southeast, both winners only giving up one run.
It is evident that if you are going to win in this tournament, you need top of the line pitching more than anything. At the same time, manager Meury also said he feels he has a team that is always putting the ball in play. Whenever you're putting the ball in play, you are always giving yourself a chance to win games.
New England certainly put the ball in play in their elimination game against Kearney, Neb., of the Midwest, in which they scored 12 runs on eight hits, while shutting out the Midwest's offense. New England's pitchers only allowed two hits on the game.
"They put the ball in play from the first inning on," manager Meury said of his batters. Manager Meury also said he felt his starting pitcher, Matt Kubel, was doing a good job of hitting his spots and pitching accurately.
"He was aiming small and missing small," Meury said.
Whatever happens in the games to come, manager Meury said the kids, as well as the coaches themselves, have enjoyed their time at South Williamsport. They've enjoyed meeting new teams from around the globe, as well as interacting with the Japanese players, who they think has the best sense of humor.
That seems to be the true beauty of South Williamsport though. Wherever you go, you sense the excitement of the fans in the stadium and see the smiles on the players' faces, knowing they are participating in what for them is a dream come true. You see fans getting autographs from players from other countries.
That is what makes South Williamsport at this time of the year the place to be.
Will Lucas from the New England team might have described South Williamsport best when he said that the food is great, the dorms are nice, and the fields aren't too bad as well.
"It's really fun playing on such a nice field," Lucas said.