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Fans, players take in Day 1 sights

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Greenville North State players interact with the Caribbean representative from Santiago, Dominican Republic, during batting practice Thursday at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 17, 2017

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — As Greenville North State players were taking batting practice Thursday, fans packed the stands at nearby Volunteer Stadium as teams from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Reynosa, Mexico, took the field to officially begin the Little League World Series.

The Mexican fans were making their strong presence felt, which North State player Bryce Jackson said was not surprising as the Greenville players have been hanging out with their new friends from Reynosa all week at the World Series complex.

“Our team has gotten really, really close to Mexico, and that’s been really cool,” Jackson said.

There was a natural buzz Thursday for Day 1 for the series.

North State held a 45-minute batting practice session during the afternoon, watched some of the other games later in the day and spent time with family Thursday night. Greenville’s first game is Friday at 8 p.m. against Sioux Falls, S.D.

Fans navigating the hilly and Disney-esque complex also brought about a shift in focus for Brent Heinisch, who is the general manager of the Sportservice Management company that is in charge of food and beverage for the event. Heinisch expects an average of $100,000 sold in food and beverages per day, and chicken tenders — not hot dogs! — are the top-selling item.

“I got here Aug. 7 with a team of six people and we have a chef here from the Buffalo Sabres (of the National Hockey League) and different guys from Major League Baseball teams,” Heinisch said. “We were open and did some different lunch specials for employees for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then we’re full-go today. ... Hot dogs are way up there, but here it’s about chicken tenders, and we’ll do about 30,000 pounds of chicken tenders throughout the course of the series.”

There is no charge for attendance. Fans do have to go through security screening when entering.

Heinisch remembers vividly that with rain forcing eight games to be played on Day 1, opening day a few years ago led fans to spend more than $200,000 at concession stands.

Four games were held on this year’s opening day, and the weather was great. Lines were fluid at food, drink and dessert spots.

The highest-priced food item is $6, and there is no alcohol.

“With having that local team from Jackson, N.J., here, it’s a busy day today, for sure, but today is not the busiest day,” Heinisch said. “The weekends are the most popular, especially the semifinals Saturday and championship Sunday (next weekend).”

The Greenville team has been here since Saturday.

An opening ceremony was held late Thursday morning for all 16 teams to stand in the outfield together and show off their regional championship banners. Baseball Hall of Fame member Eddie Murray threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

By 1 p.m., it was North State’s turn at the batting cages and they practiced alongside the team from Santiago, Dominican Republic.

With Mexico in the first inning against Venezuela at that point, even North State coach Brian Fields paused to relish the moment just before pitching to his players for batting practice.

“When you start seeing the people and the music and the noises, there is just a little more buzz out here,” he said. “It’s finally starting to seem real.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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