SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — At 3:35 a.m. Saturday, Chris Young arrived at Little League International headquarters. A tip from a local resident — one he got for handing over his North State all-star cap — informed him that tickets for seats inside Howard J. Lamade Stadium would be available for the international and U.S. championships in the Little League World Series.
All he had to do was show up early.
“I said, ‘How early?’” Young said.
About 5:30 or 6, and get in line, the man told him.
Rob Hall, left, and Chris Young were among the many yellow-shirted fans supporting North State’s all-stars on Saturday.
Not a chance he was waiting that late. Young, a 12-year Little League coach in Greenville who has been following the North State all-stars all summer, intended to be first.
About 30 minutes after Young claimed his spot, Chip and Jennifer Little arrived. They had flown from Costa Rica to Washington, D.C., then rented a car to drive to South Williamsport. They would have been second in line had they wanted tickets but planned to sit on the hill with friends behind the left field wall.
Like many wearing various shades of yellow in support of the Southeast representative in the LLWS or the green of Greenville North State, they made their way to central Pennsylvania to see their beloved team of 12- and 13-year-olds aim for a U.S. title. Distance or other obstacles didn’t seem to matter.
“I made a promise to my son and to my nephew,” Chip Little said. “I said, ‘If we ever get here, I’m bringing you.’ I didn’t know I was going to be living in Costa Rica at the time I said that.”
Chip and Jennifer moved from Greenville to Costa Rica on Aug. 15, 2015, but have kept in touch with friend and happenings back home. They followed North State’s first two games in the LLWS on ESPN, then after a 2-1 win over Texas on Wednesday, they were Williamsport-bound.
Chip and Jennifer Little, who came to the game from Costa Rica, join Kim and Lynn Sugg on the hill overlooking Howard J. Lamade Stadium several hours before Saturday’s game.
Their son, Trey, was not able to join them because he was attending a friend’s wedding on Saturday. Their other son, Johnson, also attended a wedding on Friday night but planned to make it by game time.
Jennifer and Chip were a bit travel weary before Saturday’s game but in awe of their surroundings.
“This is unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Chip said.
That was the consensus among those getting their first look at the LLWS complex with plush fields of Lamade and Volunteer Stadium, practice fields and batting cages, set with hills overlooking the fields and a green mountain backdrop.
Richie Grimsley, who played in Greenville Little League and at J.H. Rose before going to UNC-Chapel Hill, has been here most of the week. Grimsley’s father, Jimmie, helped established the Hot Stove League in Greenville and was a major supporter of baseball. He passed away in January 2015 and has a bench dedicated to him at Elm Street Park.
Richie’s mother, Barbara, died in July of this year.
“I thought we needed to have a Grimsley presence here,” he said. “My dad and mom are looking down smiling. They’re probably somewhere up on that hill looking down.”
Rob Hall, a Greenville real estate agent, visited Williamsport for the first time on Saturday, bringing along his wife, Sarah, and children, Avery and Forbes.
“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in Williamsport, and TV does not do it justice,” Hall said. “It’s just hard to describe.
“It almost feels like we’re at Elm Street Park because the kids, I have no idea where they are right now.. They’re running around somewhere, but I know they’re safe. It’s a little slice of heaven right here.”
The Halls also decided after Wednesday’s win over Texas to take a family trip. They spent Friday night at the KOA Campground about 20 miles from Williamsport.
“We had a little gathering at the house,” Hall said. “I looked at the weather and saw it was going to be 75 and sunny and 50 at night. Sarah said, ‘That’s camping weather.’ … I wanted to take the kids camping anyways. What better place to go camping than this?”
As he joined about 250 fans in yellow shirts lining the road to cheer on North State players as they headed to the batting cages, Hall said the sense of community pride was evident both back home and among the group in Williamsport.
A line forms early Saturday morning for tickets to sit in the stadium.
“I don’t think you find it in a bigger city,” he said. “I think the city’s the perfect size to have a magical moment like this where the entire community is on fire for this team.”
The Halls picked a pair of tickets at the Will Call window without having to wait in line.
“We definitely scored,” Sarah Hall said.
Young also got his ticket and was positioned about three rows up on the third-base side of Lamade Stadium with Michael Crumpler, one of Young’s former players on Coca-Cola, and Michael’s father, David.
He coached many of the all-stars playing Saturday when they were 9, and he recalled their disappointment after being knocked out of the district tournament by Rocky Mount.
“I remember after that game I went to most of them and told them, ‘In four years in the Little League World Series, I want you to do this,’” he said. “At the time, I didn’t really believe that. What’s the chance of that? But I wanted them thinking about the big picture.”
He followed the team to the district tournament in Morehead City, the state tournament in Morganton and the regional tournament in Warner Robins, Ga. There was no chance he would not be in Williamsport.
“I’ve coached every single one of these boys,” Young said. “I had to be up here with these kids.”