Little League World Series: More Than Just Fun for the Players

Little League World Series: More Than Just Fun for the Players

By Lauren Gilbert ’13

From Aug. 16 – Aug. 26, Susquehanna senior softball player Lauren Gilbert got the opportunity of a lifetime to work at the Little League World Series, held in nearby Williamsport, Pa. And Gilbert was not there to sell game programs or take tickets; she was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at the tournament and write about all of the unique aspects of the global event. Upon returning to campus, Gilbert agreed to share some of the memorable aspects of her 11 days in Williamsport.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”—Wayne Gretzky

This quote is one I try to live by to the best of my ability. Back in January of 2012, I received an email from Susquehanna pertaining to available student sports writing positions that Little League International was looking to fill; the people hired would work at the 66th Little League Baseball World Series. As soon as I read the email I became excited, although I knew I would probably have a one in a million chance of getting it. However, since I had grown up as a huge fan of the Little League Baseball World Series, I figured I would be crazy to not at least apply for the position and see what happened, and thus I submitted my resume and cover letter the next day.

Fortunately, to my surprise, I received a call back and ended up being offered a position.

After working at the 2012 Little League Baseball World Series as a student sports writer for Little League International, I can honestly say it was an absolute blast. The upbeat and energetic atmosphere, as well as the passion of the volunteers, players and coaches, was something I had never seen firsthand before. It was truly a great experience and I couldn’t have ended my summer on a better note.

The players and coaches I spoke with said being in Williamsport was a dream come true, and the smiles on their faces showed this enthusiasm. I have to admit that even though I was not a player at the coveted, annual event, working behind the scenes was just as neat for me. During my time at Little League International, I had the opportunity to talk to coaches, players, volunteers and key people at Little League International which allowed me to gain an understanding of how important this event is to people around the world, and how it is so many young boys’ dreams to make it to the Little League World Series.

During my 11-day sports writing debut in South Williamsport, I was able to gain a good understanding as to what it is like to work in the sports communication field. Over the course of the event, I learned it is hard work to be a sports journalist, but that doing something you enjoy makes it worth it. Many of the ESPN Williamsport broadcasters, who sat a few seats down from me, were constantly talking about this, as well.

My days were busy but the hours flew by. I would typically arrive in South Williamsport around 10 a.m. in hopes to interview one or two teams. I would then usually write a feature story before the daily games began. This was a process in itself, though, as tracking down the teams was much harder than you would think. Often times when I would go to “the Grove,” the dorm area where all the boys stay, I would be told they are running around somewhere. The 11-and-12 year old boys were all over the place as they were constantly swimming, searching for young girls or running around the complex during their free time.

Needless to say I got plenty of exercise --which I needed since I gorged myself with all the free food in the media room -- but eventually I always was able to get in touch with the team. Once I had completed the interview, I would either write up the feature story or cover one of the daily games, depending on which game I had been assigned to. After my game concluded, I would attend the post-game press conference to obtain quotes for the game story. Upon completion of the press conference, I would finally write the game summary and send it off to the editor. Some nights I didn’t get home until midnight but I always felt I had learned a lot and had been productive.

Though some of the days were long, the experience was worth every second. I loved talking to the players, volunteers and coaches because they were so passionate about being in South Williamsport. I enjoyed talking to Japan, Germany, and Great Lakes, as well as listening about their journeys to Williamsport. The touching stories that make their teams unique was something most people cannot say they experienced. I was also able to sit in on a press conference with Dick Vitale, as well as see Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz, the catcher on the Philadelphia Phillies and a former Little League player from Panama, talk with the Panama team players. However, although every memory is great, the one that stands out the most is when I interviewed the boys from Uganda.

Richard Stanley, one of the Uganda coaches, is truly an amazing person. Uganda would not have been able to live their dream of coming to the United States if it hadn’t been for his generosity and dedication, as he paid the $35,000 cost it took to transport the team and three coaches to Poland for the regional tournament. However, it was well worth it because they went on to win the regional tournament and earn a berth to the 66th annual event as the first team from Africa to ever make it to the Little League World Series.

Stanley, an adjunct chemistry professor at Wagner College, travels to and from Uganda three times a year to help teach players fundamentals of the game. During the interview, he told me that many of these players had very little fundamentals of the game prior to his arrival in May.

also talked about the many “firsts” this summer had brought the boys, which included playing on their first field, owning their own equipment, eating ice cream sandwiches, coming to the United States, hitting in a batting cage and playing in front of a large crowd.

The boys from Uganda don’t have much back home. They play on open, rocky fields with cardboard bases. If food is in front of them they eat it. They share one bat and have very little equipment. Regardless though of their life back home, they love baseball and play for the love of the game.

While talking to some of the boys on the team, they told me about their experiences and the great time they were having. When I asked what their favorite part was, they replied, “hitting in the batting cages.” They love to hit and had never seen a batting cage until Poland. This is something most of the other teams utilize on a daily basis, but not the boys from Uganda. While most young boys were fast asleep as the sun rose, the boys from Uganda were usually making their way down to hit in the cages.

Consistent food was another first for these boys. Back home in Uganda, the typical diet is bread, potatoes and rice. It took the boys a few days to stray away from their comfort foods, but once they began their taste testing of American food, they never stopped eating. Stanley laughed as he told me he’d never seen them eat that much before. Some of the boys’ favorite foods were spaghetti, hot dogs, chicken and ice cream sandwiches.

The Uganda team was truly an inspiration to all the young players, and the friendships formed among the different teams were touching to see. At the end of the day, the wins and losses were important to each team, but the memories and friendships made at the 66th Little League Baseball World Series are what these boys will remember for the rest of their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed each day I spent at Little League International. I was able to develop essential communication skills while doing a job I have a passion for, which is all I could’ve asked for. Each and every person left South Williamsport on Sunday with memories that will last a lifetime, and I can confidently say I will never forget my experience working at the 66th Little League Baseball World Series either.