Little League Baseball and the Gift of Community
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There are times in life when words cannot adequately describe a situation. Emotions take over to define what is going on. We are in the midst of one such situation.
As you undoubtedly know by now, the Par-Troy East Little League 11/12 baseball team is playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They are one of 16 teams worldwide to be so honored.
When the post-season tournament began about seven weeks ago, many in the league expected this team to do well. After all, they won the New Jersey State Championship as 11 year-olds last year. People wondered last year just how far this team could go. They stopped playing last year not because they were defeated: They stopped playing because they had won every game there was to win.
This year was going to be different. At some point, the team would have to find out how far it could advance. A district banner, a huge honor reserved for elite teams, was thought by many to be a foregone conclusion.
Mind you, no one associated with this team took a district title for granted! The players came to the field for every game and played as if the current game was the only one that mattered. Well, the team won their district banner—and their sectional banner—without a loss.
The state tournament would provide the first true challenge to this team’s mettle. They lost their first state tournament game and then bore down and refused to lose again. They stormed back and defeated three of the best teams in the state— mostly by large margins.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament was unchartered waters. Little Leaguers cannot play regional tournaments until they participate at the 11/12 tournament. As you know, the team beat the regional competition. New York. Pennsylvania, twice. Maryland. Delaware. Some of these teams had been undefeated for six weeks—until they faced our team. Delaware’s team was returning to the Regional Tournament for the second straight year and had yielded only six measly runs in their prior five games. That did not faze the team from Par-Troy East. They left Bristol with a new banner: They were the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Champions.
That brings us to Williamsport.
In case you have not heard, the team lost on Friday to Southwest by a score of 5-2. Many consider San Antonio, Texas, to be the toughest team in the entire tournament. Time will bear that out.
Par-Troy East defeated the Northwest champs from Gresham, Ore., on Saturday night 10-4.
The scores of the games are important, but the Williamsport experience is why I am writing. And this is where the ability of words to capture the scene come up short.
Williamsport is the mecca of Little League. It is where Little League was founded decades ago. It has the largest Little League stadiums. The nicest facilities, too. Little Leaguers worldwide dream to play there. The odds of reaching Williamsport are so long that actually playing there is merely a dream for more than 99.9 percent of all players. It is a wonderful dream, one to which every player should aspire. But is almost always an unrealized dream.
This team has realized this dream. It is playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport. In realizing its dream, it has fulfilled the dreams of hundreds of other PTE players and their families. We all get to be in Williamsport to cheer on P-T-E! What a gift this team has bestowed upon its league!
I was in Williamsport on Friday and Saturday and will return on Monday (and hopefully beyond). The experience there was surreal.
Driving up and seeing the two large stadiums pop up in the valley ... it's akin to the Field of Dreams in Iowa.
Walking around the plaza between the fields, seeing people from all over the country and the world wearing uniforms of all of the different teams. Everyone was happy to be there, least of all because they were hawking kettle corn and cotton candy.
There were wonderful stories in the air.
There is the team from Uganda—which had only a few bats for the whole league—and whose players had to share gloves with opposing teams because they could not afford their own gloves. Imagine going to a game and seeing the fielders leave their gloves on the field so their opponents could use them. That hits home.
The Ugandan players don’t fret when they cannot own the newest composite bat. They are just happy to share used, ill-fitting gloves.
There are stories about how other participating teams are coordinating equipment collections for the Ugandan team. What a sense of community!
The Lamade Stadium experience was unreal. Ed Phillips, a coach of the team, described it as heaven. Before I arrived in Williamsport, I thought he was referring to the quality of the field conditions. No. He was referring to the entire experience. He was referring to the sense of community.
I walked into Lamade on Friday and saw hundreds of familiar, friendly faces all wearing PTE red. I am not prone to wild outbursts (or even modest outbursts), but I saw some friends and immediately cried out: “WILLIAMSPORT, BABY!” That phrase—and many others—were screamed with joy throughout the weekend.
“We did it!” “We made it!” “We’re in Williamsport!” “This is unbelievable!”
It was. And it still is unbelievable.
One of the reasons I love Little League is because the Par-Troy East complex is a wonderful community. Everyone is there for the same reason: to cheer on our children.
It is a throwback. I was not alive in the 1950s, but I know it was a simpler time. Whenever I go to our complex, I imagine that is how it was like to live in the 1950s , just without the cell phones ringing. Baseball and softball. Concession stand. Friendly banter with other parents. And even a little competition among players and coaches, especially come playoffs!
Well, being in Williamsport is a very special experience. It is most certainly a special experience for the players and their families. And I can assure you it is a most special experience for all of those who bleed the red P-T-E! I’ve been back in Parsippany for 12 hours, yet I already miss Williamsport. I cannot wait to get back there Monday afternoon.
We do not know how many more games PTLLE will play in Williamsport. The players and their families are most appreciative of all of the support our community has given them. What the players and their families should know— and this is the best way I can describe how so many people feel—is that everyone who has seen a game in Williamsport or watched a game ontelevision or even read a story in the paper Is so thankful to this team for the wonderful gift they have given our community.
They have given the gift of community.
PTLLE VP of Baseball