It is difficult not to mention the city of Williamsport, Pa., and Little League baseball in the same sentence — usually the first sentence. Wikipedia manages to succeed. The first three sentences of its entry about Williamsport proclaim it the county seat of Lycoming County; that in 2009, its population was estimated at 29,304; that it is the principal city of the Williamsport, Pa., Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Which is something for the fine folks of Loyalsock Township at which to shoot.
Not until the fourth sentence does it say Williamsport, Pa., is the birthplace of Little League baseball.
A team from Williamsport won the first Little League World Series in 1947. There were just 11 teams playing that year, and none was from Taiwan, and none had a pitcher who lied about his age.
Williamsport would go on to become the holy grail of Little League Baseball, its big enchilada, the whole kit and caboodle. Speaking of big enchiladas, Brent Musburger would call the championship game on TV. A team from Taiwan usually would win, until the grown-ups starting checking birth certificates and stacking brackets so an American team would win every now and again.
But teams from the Far East usually still wind up winning, anyway.
Here’s another Little League World Series fact, perhaps not widely as known: The team with WEST stitched on its jerseys never has been a representative of Nevada.
Nevada is one of nine states yet to send a team of pint-sized sluggers to Williamsport. The others are Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
You would think that at the rate Las Vegas has been producing major league talent that somebody would have stacked a deck with little Bryce Harpers capable of slugging their way to Pennsylvania.
But a team comprised of Nevadans has never qualified to play in Williamsport, in scenic foothills shadowing the Susquehanna River near the Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which seats 40,000 spectators, which is more than Fenway Park.
No kid from Nevada has ever heard all those people shout “Hey batter, hey batter, suh-wing batter!”
There are two good reasons and an asterisk for this. The good reasons are called Southern California and Northern California. The asterisk is Hawaii.
There are so many pint-sized sluggers to choose from out there that California is divided into north and south districts for Little League. Both are assigned to the West region, along with Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. This is Little League’s version of the old American League East, with Nevada playing the part of the Cleveland Indians.
This would explain why Idaho and Montana have had Little League World Series qualifiers, and why South Dakota has had two, while Nevada and Utah have had none.
“It’s the evil axis: Southern California, Northern California and Hawaii,” says Dan Kazmierski, president of the Green Valley Little League.
Only recently has Hawaii become a force in Little League baseball. In 2008, I drove at short notice to the old but still classic Little League ballpark in San Bernardino, Calif., home of the West regional, because a local team had stormed into the championship game.
That was supposed to be the year, everybody said, that the Williamsport jinx would come crashing down the pipe in the manner of an Amanda Whurlitzer fastball.
Alas, a team of all-stars from Waipio, Hawaii, beat the team of all-stars from the Paso Verde Little League, 4-3. And then when the Hawaiian kids got to Williamsport, they won the whole thing.
In 2013, people said it was going to be the year of the Mountain Ridge all-stars, based out by Centennial Hills Hospital. But a team from Chula Vista, Calif., whipped the local kids 15-0 in the second round, and then whipped them again, 12-0, in a later round. And then the California kids went all the way to the championship game in Williamsport, where they lost to Japanese kids.
Mountain Ridge is back this year. Buoyed by the overall success of a program that captured state titles in each of Little League’s four divisions, they beat Utah 11-1 on Friday night. At 11 a.m. today, they’ll play Arizona.
Says Dan Kazmierski: “Everybody tells me this is the best shot we’ve had.”
Says Mountain Ridge Little League president Kristi Black, with just a tad more bias: “We’ve got a real good team, I’ll tell you. They play with spirit; they’ve got that drive, they’ve got that magic.”
Spirit and drive and especially magic may come in handy on Tuesday and Wednesday morning at Al Houghton Stadium on the outskirts of San Bernardino, Calif. That’s when the Mountain Ridge kids will face the kids from Northern California and Southern California in pool play.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.