Just before the Northwood Little League all-star team took the field on Thursday against Mechanicsville National Little League, Cathy Clark went to a store in Warner Robins, Georgia, and bought a bag for her son, David, to pack his clothes in.
David plays first base and outfield for the Northwood all-star team. Cathy and her husband knew if Northwood won, David would be going directly to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to play in the Little League World Series. There would not be a chance to come back home and pack a separate suitcase.
“We packed his bag like he was going to win and go,” Cathy said on Friday.
That’s exactly what happened. On Thursday, the Northwood team that includes players from all over Greenville County rode the bat and arm of pitcher Alex Edmondson to secure a 7-0 win over Mechanicsville, Virginia. Edmondson threw a no hitter and went 3-for-4 with a walk, two home runs and five RBI. He struck out 12 batters and allowed only three baserunners.
The Little League World series is a 16-team tournament that features eight U.S. teams and eight international teams. Play begins Aug. 20. Northwood’s first game will be at 4 p.m. Friday against the winner of the New England regional. They’re guaranteed to play three games, including one against an international opponent.
As league president Jody Parker was watching Thursday’s game unfold and it became apparent Northwood was likely headed for Williamsport, the excitement was accompanied by a problem: How to help the players’ families enjoy the ride.
The 14 players on the Northwood Little League team are taken care of. They will spend at least the next 10 days in accommodations provided by Little League baseball, and much of their time in Williamsport will be carefully scripted by the league — including meals, practices, media appearances, team meetings and time to interact with the other 15 teams that will be there.
Their families are another matter. They need to find and pay for transportation, lodging and food. And although there’s no charge for game tickets, Northwood doesn’t get a block of tickets to the games. Tickets to early round games probably will be easy to come by, but if Northwood makes a run at the championship it may get tougher.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Parker said. “We want to make sure we’re prepared to handle it correctly. At the same time, we want to make sure we try to take care of the families as far as the costs involved in it.”
For the families, the significant costs are outweighed by the experience. They are working hard to find room in their budgets to plan a quick trip up to a city where, Clark says, hotel rooms can cost $350 a night during the World Series.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Clark said. “The boys will never get to do it again. It’s something they can tell their grandkids about.”
The league is trying to raise $30,000 to help the families travel to Williamsport. Northwood is asking for corporate donations from area businesses, and is planning to put a link on its website where anyone can donate $100 at a time to help the families, Parker said. (http://northwoodbaseball.pointstreaksites.com/view/northwoodbaseball).
The last South Carolina team to play in Williamsport was Clinton in 1950. Another state team, the Cannon Street YMCA team from Charleston, was invited to Williamsport in 1955 to participate in the events surrounding the World Series, but did not play. Cannon Street was an all-black team that won the state championship when white teams refused to play against them. Those white teams were disqualified by Little League baseball. However, because the Cannon Street team didn’t actually win a tournament it couldn’t play in World Series games.
For those wanting to cheer on the Northwood team, the best seat in the house may well be the sofa in their living room. ESPN broadcasts the Little League World Series games (just as it does the championship of the affiliated Big League World Series held every year in Easley), ratcheting up the spotlight on these 12-year-old baseball all-stars.
ESPN’s involvement already has been evident to the families. Immediately after Thursday’s game, parents were signing releases from ESPN giving the network permission to interview their children and use their likenesses on television. Then it was off to a quick pizza dinner and celebration in the team hotel’s banquet room and, for the Clarks who both work for a family business in Greenville, a quick return to everyday before the World Series begins.
“Life goes on, even though we’re doing this,” Clark said.
None of it seems to be fazing the players, though.
“It’s surreal,” Clark said. “He is on cloud nine. I think they all are. He texted me this morning and said, ‘Good morning. I miss y’all but I’m going to have the time of my life.’
“So he was excited. I’m sure they will be until they’re done.”
Costs aside, it’s obvious these families are hoping they won’t be done until they bring home a trophy.