Most players here in South Williamsport, Pa., for the 2017 edition of the Little League World Series will never play a game in the big leagues. For many this may be the biggest sporting stage they ever perform on.
And it is one none of them will ever forget.
There is nothing little about the Little League World Series, the annual event that brings together the world’s 16 best teams made up of 12- and 13-year-olds.
This unique piece of sporting Americana doesn’t cut any corners. The facilities are baseball cathedrals — two beautiful fields that, with the exception of the dimensions, have all of the trappings of a professional facility.
“It’s a dream come true honestly. It’s just something you could never imagine,” says Canada first baseman Reid Hefflick, whose White Rock team won Canada’s Little League championship last week in Medicine Hat to earn a spot here. “Its a dream from all baseball players our age. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The city of South Williamsport and its residents embrace this event and take pride in rolling out the red carpet for these players, treating them like baseball royalty.
There are also perks that would impress any teenager. Each player is given glasses, gloves, cleats and other baseball paraphernalia. A prize for making it to this final stage.
The team from Canada and their families have certainly taken notice.
“It’s just amazing to be here to see all of the fields, all of the people, it’s just insane,” says Canadian infielder Ty Fluet.
“It’s baseball Disneyland for sure, but this is what we came for, it’s the mecca of baseball,” says Lisa Pederson-Chyzowski, whose son Kyle plays for Team Canada.
“It’s been completely unbelievable and surreal. They have been on the go since they got off the bus. It’s been amazing, they have been treated like royalty.”
The feeling begins before the games even start. There is a welcoming parade through downtown Williamsport. And the opportunity to meet fellow elite baseball players from around the world.
“Kids want to talk about their journey, how they got here, who they played, it’s great to hear everyone’s story,” says Canadian infielder Sheldyn Scott.
“I thought the teams would be kind of mean, looking only for a win,” says Reece Usselman, who pitched for Canada against Italy. “But all of the kids are willing to talk, want to hang out. It’s amazing, it’s a lot like summer camp.”
On the field there is camaraderie and sportsmanship, but this is an elite sporting event. And teams are playing to win.
And Canada dominated in its first game Thursday against Italy. Most of the offence was provided by first baseman Chase Marshall. He staked Canada to a 1-0 lead in the first with a solo home run, then blew the game open with a towering grand slam in the third. The 12-2 score was the largest margin of victory ever for a Canadian team at this event. It’s easy for players to get motivated for these games.
They are playing before a stadium packed with thousands of fans, with overflow spectators watching from a hillside overlooking the field.
“I didn’t think there would be this many people wanting to see us play,” says Kyle Chyzowski. “We are 12- and 13-years-old and there are 20,000 people here wanting to see us play and its mind-blowing. I expected a big crowd but this is a dream come true.”
“You have fans asking for autographs, taking pictures with you. It’s just unbelievable that I’m here,” Reece Usselman adds.
That’s why it’s easy to believe these players when they tell you — win or lose — this trip to Williamsport, the Disneyland of baseball, will never be forgotten.
“You get to represent your country and not a lot of people can say that, can experience that,” says Sheldyn Scott
Canada plays again on Sunday morning against Venezuela.