WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ A Pennsylvania team is expected to draw big crowds to the state’s beloved Little League World Series as the 16-team double-elimination tournament opens on Thursday.
Red Land Little League of Lewisberry, Pa., near the state’s capital of Harrisburg, plays its first game Friday night against Midwest champion Missouri. Little League officials expect a record crowd of 41,000 fans set in 2011 to be threatened.
“It feels like Christmas time,” said Red Land coach Bret Wagner, a 1994 first round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals. “I’ve been telling everyone it’s pretty amazing when your kid trumps your greatest accomplishment and he’s only 12.”
Red Land is one of two powerful teams that have put up video-game like numbers throughout their all-star runs. Red Land has hit 80 home runs in 16 games and the Sweetwater Valley team from Bonita, California, has hit 84.
Some familiar teams with new players return on the American side of the tournament. Pearland, Texas, finished third in the country last year and also reached the 2010 U.S. semifinal. Cranston, Rhode Island reached the 1996 world final and Webb City played in the 2002 series.
“It’s really exciting,” said Cranston coach Larry Lepore, who also coached on its 1996 teams. “It’s really crazy to think about doing it once, let alone twice.”
Taylors, South Carolina, is the first team from its state to play at the Series since 1950 and is trying to win the first Series game in state history. Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Portland, Oregon, round out the American field and both are making their debuts.
AVRS Little League from Uganda could be the crowd’s International favorite. Uganda plays in series opener Thursday against the Dominican Republic, making just its second series appearance. Uganda received loud ovations throughout the 2012 series when it went 1-2 and beat Oregon in a consolation game.
Kitasuna Little League from Japan captured the 2012 world championship and is back again. The Tung Yuan Little League from Chinese Taipei defeated defending champion South Korea in the Asia-Pacific Regional and also could be a title contender. Teams from Australia, Canada, Venezuela and Mexico make up the remainder of the field.
On Wednesday, the New Albany, Indiana, team that missed out on last year’s tournament received a championship welcome.
New Albany lost in the Great Lakes Region championship against eventual U.S. champion Jackie Robinson West from Chicago. When Jackie Robinson had those honors stripped after manipulating league boundaries, New Albany was crowned the Great Lakes champion. Little League honored New Albany on Wednesday by included the team along with the 16 series participants in Williamsport’s annual Grand Slam parade, an event that carries the teams through downtown Williamsport.
Former big league World Series-winning manager Jim Leyland welcomed New Albany and all other 16 champions, serving as the parade’s grand marshal.
“A lot of these guys haven’t hung out since last August since they go to different schools now,” New Albany manager Josh Biven said. “It’s pretty cool to see them all back together, getting to see the place they’ve dreamed about for years after it got taken away from them last year for shady adults making a horrible decision.”