World Series much more than balls, strikes, hits and ESPN

ROXANA – There’s more to the Little League Senior Softball World Series than balls, strikes and outs – and live coverage on ESPN.

It’s about bonds, cornfields, camaraderie, chicken houses, friendships and culture shock.

“One of the interesting stories I found out from last year, the Canada team became very good friends with the Czech team,” Martin Donovan, tournament director for the Senior League World Series event. “They have communicated over this past year. The Czech team has invited them to play in a tournament in Czechoslovakia. They raised the money and they are going.”

This year, it’s just one tournament and 10 teams: Senior League.

For the past several years, the Lower Sussex Little League complex had played host to two tourneys: Senior and an older Big-League division, which was dissolved by Little League International.

“This part is easy, running the ballgames,” said Mr. Donovan. “But coordinating the airports, it wasn’t a disaster but it was a nightmare, when you have 20 teams. I can appreciate what a professional GM goes through.”

One 10-team tournament afforded some calendar breathing room. It started Monday, July 31 and wraps up on championship Sunday, Aug. 6.

“This year has been extremely relaxing compared to previous years because we have one extra day. Some teams are playing a doubleheader. And if you’re not playing a doubleheader then you play every day,” said Mr. Donovan.

During opening ceremonies, longtime supporting sponsors were recognized. Some were presented softballs signed by players from the 2016 World Series team from China, which became the first Chinese team to ever play in a Little League World Series. Taiwan is separate from China.

Special salutes and kudos were delivered to Sussex County Council, Harris Teeter, Nicola Pizza and the Freeman Foundation.

Sussex County Council is batting 14-for-14 in sponsorship support of Little League World Series events in Roxana.

“They have been with us all through that, and prior to that we ran the Eastern Regional Major Softball Tournament. We did that for seven years and they were there probably for five years of that,” said Mr. Donovan.

Mr. Martin made special note of the support from the Carl and Joshua Freeman Foundation.

“In the very beginning Josh Freeman provided all of our housing. Houses; they literally rented 20 houses. The Philippine players for example couldn’t get over that the living rooms in some of those houses were bigger than their schools,” said Mr. Donovan.

Nowadays, the Freeman Foundation pitches in $20,000 in return for matching volunteer service.

“We provide 60 hours with volunteer service to them – at the Freeman Stage. They match up $20,000,” said Mr. Donovan. “I have a committee of about 25 to 30 people. Myself, I was down there twice. It’s whatever they need. The two times I was down there I did parking.”

One year, the Good Ole Boy Foundation stepped to the plate in a huge way to help a Philippine team in need.

“Asia Pacific … they had no shoes. Everything was worn. We threw out all their helmets. We had some helmets here we gave them. The Good Ole Boy Foundation stepped up and bought them gloves, bought them shoes. To those kids, it was Christmas all over,” said Mr. Martin.

Culture shock is not uncommon.

“Asia Pacific, one year they saw all these chicken houses. They didn’t know what they were. We tried to explain to them, it’s a motel for chickens. Ed Dutton, who does the busing for us, he took them down to see the chickens,” said Mr. Donovan.

“Arizona was here one year. They could not fathom that we’re in the middle of a cornfield and 10 miles that way there are 100,000 people. They really couldn’t fathom that 100 degrees with this humidity, and that in December there is snow on the beach,” said Mr. Donovan. “And it was hot. It was so hot that year we stopped selling water and started handing it out because people were passing out.”

The tournament can also put life from various parts of the globe in perspective.

“Sometimes, we take things for granted. One year, Asia Pacific was in the semifinals and they got beat. The girls started crying and crying. Their district administrator was here and I told him the girls had nothing to be ashamed of, they lost 1-0 in like eight innings or nine innings,” Mr. Donovan said. “He said, ‘Marty, you don’t understand: it’s not the game. When they go home now they are losers. And in their society, if they had won the family status would have moved up a little bit.’ Our kids, they are spoiled to a point, but they are playing a softball game. Some of these girls are playing for something totally different.”

One of the Little League’s principles is equal housing. Teams share lodging headquarters.

“Well, No. 1 that is a requirement for the World Series,” said Mr. Donovan. “One of the things we learned back when we did the Eastern Regionals, the host team, by them not staying with the other kids there was a big part they missed; the fellowship, the camaraderie.”

Scorekeepers, public address announcers, ushers, the grounds crew, parking coordinators, it’s all volunteers.

“Nobody on our committee gets anything. We do it because we like it,” Mr. Donovan said. “The volunteers, every league (in District 3) has a night here. Tonight (Aug. 1) is Nanticoke Little League. Yesterday was Woodbridge. The last day is Georgetown.”

With rave reviews, Mr. Donovan believes Lower Sussex can remain a home base for a World Series for years to come.

“Canada, there was a lady telling us they’ve been to other tournaments, and they are here and you guys are up here. It’s not just the tournaments here, it’s the people. There are other things they can do while they here. So, it’s just the whole environment. We can control some of it but the majority, it’s just a very good venue,” said Mr. Donovan. “There was a rumor flying around it’s only here for three years. I have said from Day 1, it’s here either until we give it up, screw it up or run out of money. And we’ll do No. 3 before we give it up or screw it up. It’s just getting harder and harder to keep our head above water.”

Shannon’s motivational pitch

Life changed suddenly for Shannon Lord on May 22. The star senior catcher for Sussex Tech who played in the 2016 Little League World Series with the team from Laurel was seriously injured in a car accident. It left her facing paralysis.

During opening ceremonies to a rousing ovation, she walked – albeit with a slight limp – to the mound and delivered words of encouragement and motivation before winging a ceremonial first pitch.

“Congratulations to all of you girls for making it to where you are. I was in a serious car accident May 22 where I was paralyzed from the waist down. I was brought to Christina to have a really intense surgery. Because of that intense surgery and then also going to Magee Rehab in Philadelphia I was able to now walk before you today,” said Shannon. “I am still going through therapy, because I’m trying to walk normal now, not with a limp.”

The 2017 Sussex Tech graduate shared her World Series experience.

“When I was here I had an amazing experience. I got to meet people from all over the world and it was so fun. We really bonded with the Puerto Rican team last year. They were extremely fun,” said Shannon. “I wish you guys all of the best. I know that sometimes practices aren’t the best, and you don’t really feel like coming out in the heat and working hard. But trust me: All of that hard work has helped out tremendously, especially through therapy having to do a lot of hard work. They really push me.”

“I wish you guys all of the best,” Shannon added, “And D3 (District 3) … push hard.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.