SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Only one team gets a championship banner at the Little League World Series. The swag, well, all of the pint-sized competitors walk off with a slew of goodies.
From bats to caps to collectible pins — even a Little League video game for the Nintendo Wii — players who make it to South Williamsport are rewarded with plenty of cool items for their trip home.
“It’s like Christmas in August for them around here,” said Bruce McDonald, a coach for the White Rock, British Columbia team.
The final four teams were off Friday. Games resume Saturday when Waipahu, Hawaii, plays Lake Charles, La., for the U.S. title and Tokyo meets Matamoros, Mexico, for the international crown. The World Series championship is Sunday.
Some of the new equipment given to all participants could get some use this weekend. Sponsors also set up shop under a tent a short walk away from the Little League dorms to give away items like new batting helmets. Catchers get their own catcher’s gear.
“Oh yeah, and the cleats are nice, too,” said Stuart McDonald, the coach’s 12-year-old son and a catcher on the Canadian team.
McDonald’s teammates heard about the gifts from last year’s British Columbia squad, which also qualified for South Williamsport, but were still surprised by the bounty.
“The kids knew it was going to happen, but it’s still unbelievable when you go up there and they are walking out with these bags,” Bruce McDonald said.
New this year among the giveaways is the Little League-sanctioned video game. They won’t be able to use it if they don’t have a Wii back home, but they did get to check it out at the players’ complex, where there was a video game room.
Some of the names on the game are similar to last year’s participants, noted Hagerstown, Md., outfielder Adam Blenckstone.
Will he buy the game next year to see if he’s in it?
“Definitely,” the 13-year-old said.
Players were most excited about the bats, and many broke them out immediately for the games. New higher-quality aluminum bats can cost about $220, Maryland infielder Zane Schreiber said.
“Batting gloves are pretty good, but the bats were the best because we got three of them,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber was planning to donate two of the bats to his hometown league, and keep the one he got signed by players from other teams.
Collectible pins are popular, too. Many are given away by sponsors, while players, parents and locals bring their own and trade them away for other pins.
Roaming the grounds, players bump into pin fanatics like 9-year-old Madison Losell, of Williamsport. She watches games each summer with her mother, Stacey, and totes along her trading pins in a padded bag.
“Sometimes, like the other day, we sit in the stadium and people will walk by that are playing in the next game. We have to ask them, ‘Do they have any pins,”’ Madison said.
Players from Hawaii carried around two or three collectible pin bags, the Losells said.
Yet for all the free stuff and trading pins, most players valued their time on the field the most. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the vast majority of them.
“It wasn’t just the physical items we brought home,” Blenckstone said. “We brought home mental items we got from playing in the Little League World Series. That will be with us forever.”
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