Series continues to thrive with solid support - East Valley Tribune: Sports

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Series continues to thrive with solid support

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Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2003 12:17 am

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Don't look for Ozzy Osbourne singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame'' here.

And you won't find any of Ozzy's heavy metal music blaring from the loudspeakers between innings either.

The daily rotation of songs at Lamade and Volunteer Stadium seems as if both parks are sharing the same outdated compact disc — packed with bouncy, upbeat songs from the 1970s and 1980s.

Nestled among the thick, green, remote forests of central Pennsylvania, South Williamsport clings as tightly to old-fashioned American values as it does to its moniker as the official birthplace of Little League baseball.

Every game is televised now. Metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs have taken their places next to cotton candy and funnel cake stands. But the more things change, the more the LLWS fights to keep them the same.

“I grew up here playing Little League but I never made it to the World Series as a player,'' mayor George Rafferty said. “But I've been to every one since 1959 as a fan and I wouldn't miss one for the world. It's our signature event, and you can tell the pride we have by the way our people support it.''

Those that don't fill the stands for games are among the 600 volunteers who make up the lion's share of the LLWS workforce. The umpires work for free and travel on their own. The announcers drive in from New Jersey. A bank president from nearby Jersey Shore was selling hot dogs, while usher Tim Waclawski was showing fans to their seats — for the 34th straight year.

“It seems like every time someone hits a home run, my back is turned, showing someone where the bathroom is,'' Waclawski said. “I coached Little League for 10 years before a friend asked me to help usher back in 1969. I've never missed a year since.''

The Series has endured its share of negative publicity in recent times. New York's Danny Almonte dominated the 2001 tournament before birth certificates showed he was two years over the 12-year-old limit. And last year, the Harlem, N.Y., team arrived with its hot-dogging style and its overbearing, impatient fans.

“Let's just say we were very happy when Delaware won the Mid-Atlantic tournament this year,'' one usher said while covering his name tag. “We needed a little break from the New Yorkers.''

This year, the big stories are on the field and positive.

The games have been well-played and very competitive. After scoring only one run in its first two trips to the LLWS, the team from Russia won its first game ever Sunday, scoring two runs in the final inning to beat the Pacific champs from Guam. After the final out, the Russian team tore out of the dugout as if they had won the championship.

“All of a sudden, we win. It was like magic,'' coach Mikhail Kornev said. “I don't want bad history for (my) team. All the kids are proud.''

Away from the field, the name of the game is pins.

Under a huge tent outside Lamade Stadium, hundreds of adults and kids trade thousands of baseball and Little League pins for hours. There is no buying or selling allowed — as those who are politely asked to leave soon find out.

Ed Toczwk comes all the way from Victoria, British Columbia, each year to add to his personal collection of more than 17,000 pins. Does he ever stop to watch the games?

“Do they play baseball here? I had no idea,'' Toczwk said with a smile. “I go to a game or two, but for me it's all about the trading. There are about 1,000 different pins that are new this year, and I only have a week to get them.''

Gary Rivkin of Bristol, Conn., also is heavy into trading, but said he gives away about 1,000 pins every year to kids that are just starting their collections. “A bad day trading pins is better than a great day at work,'' he said. “The kids can be pretty ruthless traders, but I love working with them. I'm a pretty easy mark.''

So despite the national exposure, international strife and age scandals, the 57th World Series has managed to keep its innocence intact.

“We kind of look at the problems that come up as rain delays,'' Little League spokesman Lance Van Auken said “Eventually, we're going to get back on schedule. We do the same things we've always done. The focus of the World Series is to get a winner and send everyone home happy, and teach lessons about teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play that everyone can take home.''

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