What Does A Patch Of Grass At Williamsport Go For?
Back when I was kid, when we played the game with stuffed brontosaurus skins and woolly mammoth tusks, there was a single three-syllable word that encapsulated all of my fondest baseball dreams: Williamsport.
I barely knew that Williamsport was an actual place, let alone how to find it on a map. It was more like a concept whose existence you took on faith. Much like Valhalla to ancient warriors.
You went there only if you persevered, played your absolute best, and had the gods of baseball smiling down on you at just the right time. Every kid that ever played Little League knew that each August, just one All-Star team from each of four U.S. regions (now eight regions) was able to play their way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the Little League World Series.
One year, an All-Star team from South Windsor, the town right next to mine, went on a magical mid-Summer streak and wound up winning the East Regional, thus earning an invitation to Williamsport. The members of that team became local legends – attaining a level of celebrity almost Paris Hilton-esque, if you can even remotely process that thought.
When we played a midget football game against South Windsor that Fall, I could barely wait until the game was over so that I could meet those conquering heroes. During the postgame handshake I uttered the magic words: “Tell us about Williamsport”.
And they did, as my friends and I listened slack-jawed. We almost had to be dragged onto the buses that would take us back to our comparatively menial existences. The legend grew.
I’m positive that the Little League World Series holds the same level of enchantment for millions of others of us “graduates”, as Little League Baseball, Incorporated likes to call us. That sentiment, combined with the event’s scheduled spot during one of the quietest times on the television sports calendar, has made the Little League World Series one of the most consistently viewed sporting events of the year – and a staple of ESPN’s annual programming.
Consequently, I could not have conceived of an “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour that excluded the LLWS. Decades after the last ground ball scooted under my glove and between my legs I would finally get around to locating Williamsport on a map.
A few months back I started researching the possibility of getting a ticket to the event, and much to my delight discovered that the good folks in Williamsport do not charge admission. That’s right – it’s free. Gratis, nada, zip, zilch. All you have to do is request tickets by mail ahead of time. Waaaaaay ahead of time. In fact, so far ahead of time that by the time I first conjured images of myself basking in the grandstand, I was already months too late.
BUT WAIT! The hill that lies beyond the outfield fence forms a natural amphitheatre, and it’s there that the Fan’s Law of Natural Selection applies: First-come, first-served seating. So you’re saying there’s a chance…
I arrived at the LLWS complex over two hours early on Saturday, ready to claim a spot on the hill and camp out for the duration – the International Championship game at 1:00, followed by the United States Championship at 4:00. Yes, I realized that this was asking a lot of my backside. And it didn’t help that the temperature was pushing 90 degrees. But it was Williamsport!And I’m not playing with a full deck, as we’ve established consistently over the past several months.
The main gate to Little League’s version of Valhalla is at the lower end of the complex. Once you’ve passed through security, you proceed up a gradual slope past practice fields and Volunteer Stadium until you reach the Promised Land: Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Approaching Lamade from the back side of the stadium as I did, my view of the famous hillside which would be home for the next 7 or 8 hours was blocked. But I did get a very good look at the line that I would have to stand in to get there, given that the back end had already snaked around the stadium to greet me.
So I queued up and hoped for the best. Surely there would be room on that hillside for just one more Sports Fan!
The line moved steadily, but agonizingly slowly. Helpless to improve my position, and left with no other way to entertain myself, I started eavesdropping on the people around me. It was all pretty pedestrian stuff – until I heard the words “It looks good. I think we’re going to get in.”
“In?” How does one get “in” to a hillside? It was clearly time for a little investigative journalism.
I sized up the group in front of me and picked out the guy who appeared the least judgmental. “Ahh, sorry to bother you, but can you tell me what we’re waiting in line for?” I asked, sounding every bit like the idiot that I clearly was.
“They’re handing out the unclaimed tickets” came the reply. “First-come, first-served.”
“You mean tickets into the stadium?” I asked, thus cementing my idiot status.
A slow grin crept across the face of my new friend. “First time here?”
We were old buddies by the time we got to the front of the line, so much so that he did the talking for me. “He came all the way from Los Angeles”, he explained to the Ticket Meister. Who listened and gave me a big smile. And a General Admission grandstand ticket.
To be continued…