WILLIAMSPORT — Sixteen teams gathered for the Little League World Series, some from thousands of miles away, but all feeling right at home.
“It’s beyond exciting to be here, said Sammamish, Wash., assistant coach Matt Fitzgibbons. “We’ve kind of talked about it among the coaches and we were calling it the Augusta National of baseball. Everything is first class. The people are first class. The facilities are first class. It’s exceeded our wildest expectations.”
Newark, Del., pitcher Nate Hardcastle, 12, called it “probably the most exciting thing to happen to me so far in my life.”
The 67th World Series begins, Thursday, when Panama will face Puerto Rico at 1 p.m.
Other games are Corpus Christi, Texas, vs. Sammamish, Australia vs. Mexico and South Nashville, Tenn., vs. Westport, Conn. The final is Aug. 25.
A team from the Czech Republic is making its first appearance in Williamsport, and coach Pavel Chadim praised Little League Baseball officials for their commitment to the European Baseball Association.
“The last six years the level of baseball in Czech Republic, Germany, Italy has grown up unbelievably,” Chadim said.
Chadim also has the only girl on any of the 16 team rosters in Elishka Stejskalova. “It’s not easy for her to fit in but she’s unbelievable,” Chadim said.
Another country making its first World Series appearance, the Australian contingent was enjoying the Little League moment so much that it chanted a cheer as it collectively jogged to its practice field on Wednesday.
“They’re a pretty down-to-earth group of kids and they’re pretty relaxed,” Australia coach Glenn Tovey said.
Other first-round games Friday are Taiwan vs. Canada, Chula Vista, Calif., vs. Grosse Pointe, Mich., and Newark, Del., vs. Urbandale, Iowa.