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ANDERS: LLWS is a magical experience

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North State players (from left) Thomas Barrett, JoeJoe Byrne, Cash Daniels-Moye and Jacob Calder run off the field during Sunday's consolation game of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

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BY JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m not really a baseball person.

I never have been. Growing up, I found it boring. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found a little more appreciation for the skill it takes to play it, but I still don’t care for it all that much. It’s just not my cup of tea.

My colleague Ronnie Woodward and I were tasked over the last week and a half with trekking to Williamsport, Pa., to cover North State’s run in the Little League World Series. I can’t speak for Ronnie’s experience, but seeing as how baseball is his favorite sport, it’s safe to say he was more excited about it than I was.

Ronnie covered the first half of the tournament (and did a great job), and I drove up Thursday in relief to cover North State’s appearances in the United States championship game Saturday and the tournament’s consolation game Sunday.

The tournament is over now. North State fell short of the U.S. title (and in the third-place game) and Japan won the whole shebang as many predicted it would from the outset of the tournament.

I was a part of covering the Little League World Series for three days. It did little to improve baseball’s standing on my list of favorite sports to watch or cover, but what it did do was give me a whole new appreciation for Little League and how important it is to people.

Williamsport is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The entire town (and South Williamsport, where I learned Little League International is actually located) was in World Series-mode when I rolled up Thursday. The signage, the apparel, everything revolves around the event. Even if you don’t care anything about baseball, the place literally makes it impossible to not get sucked in.

Now, when I say I didn’t know anything about the Little League World Series, I mean I knew NOTHING about it. Beyond the knowledge that it was all over the ESPN family of networks during August, I drove up completely blind.

What I found was a place and a people completely immersed in what youth sports is supposed to be. The people there didn’t just travel to see some kids play baseball. They embodied everything that is supposed to be right about the environment in which kids play sports.

There was no juvenile chiding of umpires. Fans of one team cheered players from other teams. Preteen children of all different statures, races and genders approached players from any and all squads asking for autographs, and the players were always eager to oblige and interact.

During the U.S. title game Saturday between North State and Lufkin, Texas, the Japanese team — which had beaten Mexico earlier in the day for the International championship — was led across in front of the grandstands. Fans of the Greenville team and the Texas team stood and gave the kids a standing ovation.

A baserunner for Mexico’s team appeared to injure his leg sliding into second base against North State on Sunday. After he was checked out by athletic trainers, they sent him to run to test out his leg. He ran to center field, where North State player Cash Daniels-Moye was on one knee. The two fist-bumped, and the baserunner turned and ran back to second base.

That’s incredibly cool. That’s what sports should be about.

People who I spoke to about the event used words like “pure” and “innocent.” Children from all across the country and all over the world gathering in one place to compete, and being exposed to a place built on a culture of inclusion and brotherhood.

Getting to Williamsport is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 13 players who were part of this year’s North State squad. Only a select few get to play in it, but anyone can go just to experience it from a fan’s perspective.

And you should, because you will likely be blown away as I was at how much you will love it.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter. 

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