Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012
It’s not "goodbye," it’s "I’ll see you later."
As we enter the last day of the 2012 Little League Baseball World Series, the complex will be overtaken by upbeat and energetic fans who are excited to see which team will be crowned Little League champions.
Fans from across the country will break out their lawn chairs and fight for prime real estate on the hill, concession stand volunteers will work non-stop to feed the possibly 40,000 or more people who will be in attendance and the players and coaches from Goodlettsville, Tenn., and Tokyo, Japan, will prepare mentally and physically for the World Series championship game.
"The way South Williamsport treated our team is unforgettable. Years from now we won’t remember the scores of the games, but we will remember the great people we have met, the memories we have made and the great experience the Little League World Series gave us."-- Mid-Atlantic Coach Ed Phillips
However, as great as championship day is, there will be a feeling of sadness in the air once the champion is crowned, as this will bring the Little League Baseball World Series to a close and conclude the 11-day event for the time being. At the end of the day, players, coaches, ushers, volunteers, fans and all the people who make this annual event possible will say their goodbye to the hustle and bustle of Lamade Stadium until next August.
Next time is different for everyone. For some, next time will be next year, for others it may not be for a while, and for the rest it may be never. Regardless, each person who has been a part of this great journey at the Little League Baseball World Series will leave South Williamsport with many memories and friendships they can cherish for a lifetime.
“The way South Williamsport treated our team is unforgettable,” said Mid-Atlantic coach Ed Phillips. “Years from now we won’t remember the scores of the games, but we will remember the great people we have met, the memories we have made and this great experience the Little League World Series gave us.”
The friendships formed among the players were evident by talking to them and watching the boys interact with each other.
As the boys from Middle-East Africa champions Lugazi, Uganda, talked with fans after their win on Tuesday, players from the Mid-Atlantic champions from Parsippany, N.J., and the New England champions from Fairfield, Conn., passed them and gave them high fives as they congratulated them on their achievement.
One Mid-Atlantic player even asked “you guys going to be around tonight still? I haven’t beaten you in soccer yet.”
The boys from Uganda said yes as huge smiles appeared on their faces.
It was a daily occurrence to see boys walking around the stadium with friends from other teams. While sitting in press row, boys from a bunch of the U.S. teams walked into the stadium laughing and joking around, a truly touching sight to see.
When the Uganda boys were asked if they plan to keep in touch with all their new friends, they said “definitely.” The Uganda team became close friends with many of the boys here and said they will never forget this experience. Many of the teams plan to keep their friendships with Uganda going and are currently arranging to donate equipment to the Uganda Little League to help the program grow.
Uganda wasn’t the only team to make meaningful friendships in South Williamsport. The Northwest team from Gresham, Ore., made many friends too, and they became very close with the West team from Petaluma, Calif. The two teams met one another during the Northwest and West regionals, both of which were held in San Bernadino, Calif., before again seeing each other in South Williamsport.
“All the kids were mingling,” said Northwest coach Craig Hemenway. “They traded clothes, pins and cell phone numbers, were sliding down the hill and swam in the pool.”
“We’ve talked about meeting up with the West team to camp and play baseball next summer,” added Hemenway.
The two teams are about 700 miles apart, which is about a 10-hour drive.
“It’s not that bad of a drive to meet halfway, play some baseball and camp,” said Hemenway.
While talking to the kids from Tokyo, Japan, it was evident they and Mexico champions Nuevo Laredo, Tamualipas, became very good friends during the past 11-days as well. While watching the boys hit in the batting cages Thursday afternoon, some were wearing Mexico’s clothes.
“All of the Mexico players came to our dorm and exchanged clothes,” said Japan manager Yoichi Kubo. “We’re best friends in the dorms.”
When asked if they plan to stay in touch after they leave, players and coaches said they don’t use much social media, so there really is no way to. Regardless though, they are sad to leave behind the memories and friends they have made.
“Everyone is friendly here and I like that,” said Japan pitcher Kotaro Kiyomiya. “I would like to stay longer.”
“I would like to stay longer than Sunday because this is a great place,” added Japan's Ryuji Osada.
Players aren’t the only ones who have made friendships during their time in South Williamsport. Parents, volunteers and coaches have made memories and friendships too, and leaving here is just as hard for some of them.
“It was like a big fraternity among the coaches,” said Hemenway. “After games we would all talk about game strategies.”
Henry Odong, one of the Uganda coaches, has become friends with everyone too. When he wasn’t on the field, he could be found talking to other coaches, talking to young fans, taking pictures and enjoying his time at South Williamsport. He hopes to be back in the future, as many of the players on the Uganda team are just 11-years-old.
Parents have also connected and formed friendships during the past two weeks.
“Parents of different teams are exchanging numbers to stay in touch once they leave,” added Hemenway. “Many stayed at the same hotel and became friends right away.”
Although it is hard for players, coaches and parents to say goodbye to South Williamsport, some of the hardest goodbyes are for the volunteers who come back year after year.
For Carol Zysset, one of Japan’s passionate hosts, it will be very hard to say goodbye to the team whom she has become very close to during the past 11 days.
“After two weeks together I always get attached Every year I keep my team’s picture on my desk for a whole year until I get my new team,” said Zysset. “Whenever I am in a bad mood their picture always cheers me up."
She went on to talk about the memories of her time she has spent with the boys from Japan.
“They are very funny and generous,” said Zysset. “They have picked up a lot of English. We taught them to say I love you and blow kisses.”
“They make me laugh. I am going to miss them,” she added.
As time goes on, the people will leave South Williamsport, but South Williamsport will not leave them, as the memories and friendships will always be in their hearts.
From Uganda loving the batting cages, to teams loving to play in Lamade Stadium, to the fun everyone has had and the friendships made, there won’t be a memory that doesn’t bring a smile to all the participants’ faces.
“It’s been a lot of fun the past two weeks,” said the Great Lakes' Mason Gillis.
“They had a great summer playing ping pong in the recreational center and they loved Japan and Uganda. The parents, coaches and boys have had a great experience,” said New England coach Bill Meury. “The memories will be positive and terrific."
“It’s been a lot of fun here with lots of good times,” added Hemenway.
While the tournament only lasts a little over a week in late August, some players wish they could be playing at Lamade Stadium a lot longer.
“I’d like to stay here forever,” said the Northwest's Hunter Hemenway.
Unfortunately, staying forever is not a possibility as every good thing has to come to an end eventually. Luckily, the 67th Little League World Series will start in 12 months and new memories and friendships can be made then.
Hope to see you all there.