By Ethan Roy
Across more than 80 countries and the 50 United States, tens of thousands Little League® teams compete for the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series ® every year. To qualify for the 16-team tournament played at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium, a team must emerge victorious from its district, section or state, and finally its region.
An average of one million-plus tuned in to watch the 2018 Little League Baseball® World Series. The championship game drew the highest audience since 2015, with in excess of three million viewers worldwide. The global impact of the Series is undeniable, and it’s even further emphasized for the teams competing from around the world.
“It means everything, really,” said Lachlan Vella, a pitcher, infielder, and outfielder for the 2019 Australia Region Champions. “It’s the tournament to be at.”
The weight of the moment is not lost on the players. As the teams begin to arrive with under a week until the beginning of the World Series, the excitement, and corresponding nerves, are palpable.
Marcelo Alejandro Herrera Puente, a pitcher and third baseman for Team Mexico, knows his role as a representative of his country: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I have to take advantage of it and enjoy it.”
While the impact between the foul lines may resonate most strongly with the viewer, this opportunity carries just as much significance outside the diamond.
Randy Daniel Soto Fuenmayor, with the Latin America Region winners, shared through the team’s interpreter how excited he is, but is distracted as his teammates quietly gather around him. They are waiting, with noticeable patience, for their chance to speak to the media, an element of the game that may not have been tangible before arriving in Williamsport.
When asked how they’re feeling, collectively they answer with the same sentiment. They want to do the best they can to represent Venezuela with the world watching.
Cacique Mara Little League coach Carlos Alberto Oliveros Gavidia is equally excited but understands his responsibility. The Little League World Series is a multi-dimensional opportunity. Mr. Gavidia discussed his duties of guiding the players on the field and off as they learn about respect and the process of maturing not only as a baseball player, but as a person.
“This is the most important thing in my career,” said Edmar Cornelia, a coach with the Caribbean Region Champion, Pabao Little League. This means a lot coming from Cornelia, as he represented Curaçao as a player in 1980. “Coming here is the boost of your career,” said Cornelia when asked about the impact of playing in the World Series. “If you want to make it to the Major League level, this is the time to get a good start.”
“It’s the ultimate baseball tournament you can attend in the world,” said Australia Coach Jacques Michel Pacifique. “I couldn’t get here as a player but being here as a coach is just as fulfilling.”
“Everyone wishes to be here,” said Mexico coach Jose Alejandro Garza Flores. “It’s not a dream anymore. It’s a reality.”
Nearly ten thousand miles separate Sydney, Australia, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Nearly seven thousand from South Korea. The Little League World Series is a global dream for millions of children. The 16 teams here in Williamsport have turned it into a reality. With just a few days until the Series, the weight of the moment is discernible, and the appreciation of it even more so.