By: Luke Ramirez, 2009 LLBWS World Champion
The road to Williamsport and the Little League® Baseball World Series has been a long and challenging journey for each of the 16 teams that have earned the right to participate. A summer’s worth of travel is exciting and exhausting for the players, coaches, and parents. However, for those teams fortunate enough to win their regional tournament, and advance, it is the final excursion that is the most memorable.
I’ll tell you from first-hand experience that the memories I made on the plane trip and bus ride have yet to fade from my mind and never will. I was able to relive those moments in my travels with this year’s West and Northwest Regional Champions and documented the experiences these teams had during the 13-hour trip from Little League’s Western Region Facilities in San Bernardino to Williamsport.
Walla Walla Valley Little League from the state of Washington, representing the Northwest Region, poses with the regional championship banner after their championship victory against Oregon. While most other sports hand out trophies for major accomplishments, Little League is unique in presenting the champions with banners representing each tournament level won. When the World Series concludes on Aug. 27, one team out of nearly 7,000 who started the tournament in mid-June, will take home the only banner with a gold outline as world champions.
The final out is an incredible moment for every team that advances to the LLBWS. The lengthy trek for Southern California’s Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Little League was capped off by a fly ball out and an eruption into celebration.
Once all the pictures have been taken on the field, the players are taken into a conference room at the West Region Headquarters in San Bernardino where they are briefed on travel arrangements and a variety of other information about their impending time in Williamsport. The West team reacts particularly well to the news that they will be receiving a multitude of new equipment, including bats, gloves, backpacks, and cleats when they arrive.
Both teams traveled by bus from San Bernardino to the Los Angeles International airport for their flight into Philadelphia. For some players, it is the first time they have ever traveled by plane as some nervousness sets in during the boarding process. However, many of the players assured me that the excitement to reach their destination prevailed.
After a four-and-a-half hour flight, the teams are greeted by yet another bus that takes them the rest of the way to Central Pa. They boys have trouble containing their emotions being just hours away from Williamsport.
By this time, players on both teams have become comfortable with me and asked me questions about what I went through in 2009.
Among the myriad of queries asked of me during the three-hour bus ride to Little League International included …
“How many bats do we get?”… “What type of food do they serve in the grove?” … and, “How many people come to the games?”
I went from a “fly on the wall” to a LLBWS encyclopedia, but I was happy to answer all of their questions because of the bond I felt with these kids.
Another question they asked me was, “What was the best part?”
For me, it came on that same bus ride eight years ago when we finally arrived at Little League International. It was very late, but the grounds crew had left Lamade Stadium completely lit for us to see when our bus pulled in. So when the players asked me that same question I replied, “You’re going to have to wait and see for yourself.”
The journey was finally over for these two teams and their coaches. They were immediately taken into the Creighton J. Hale International Grove and to the dorms, which serves as their home for the two weeks of the championship tournament. As grueling and exhilarating a trip as it is, the final destination surely proved so well worth it for these boys.