I'm not at the Little League World Series this year.
Only national media and outlets from Williamsport, Pennsylvania — home of the Little League World Series — are allowed at the event due to COVID-19 restrictions this summer.
Usually packed with tens of thousands of fans, Lamade Stadium and the adjacent Volunteer Stadium are relatively less crowded, too, since fans aren't allowed either — only family members.
Despite those missing pieces, the most important pieces are there — the 16 teams that qualified for the Series, including the Lake Oswego Majors all-stars. Lake Oswego — with players ages 11-13 — earned its way into the Series by winning the District 4 and Oregon state championships, then finishing second in the Pacific Northwest Regional tournament in San Bernardino, California.
Because international teams are not allowed at the Series this year — another accommodation to COVID-19 concerns — regional runners-up (including Lake Oswego) got to participate in the Series for the first time.
And what a payoff that's been for the boys from Lake Oswego. The team includes: outfielder Ellis Bayne, outfielder/infielder Ezra Carlston, catcher/outfielder/infielder Jackson Caylor, pitcher/infielder Crew Corry, outfielder Nate Cook, pitcher/outfielder/infielder Beckett Heher, pitcher/infielder Chase Kelly, pitcher/catcher/infielder Ben Robertson, outfielder Luke Smith, infielder Cole Sturgeon, pitcher/catcher/infielder Ethan Uecker, pitcher/outfielder Kell VanDehey, outfielder/infielder Ryan Warhank, manager Chris Kelly and coaches Tony Sturgeon, Brad Smith and Keith Caylor.
In addition to the trip, the adventure and the games themselves, there's much more to the World Series experience, including exposure. Lake Oswego has seen both of its first two games shown on national television, the first on ESPN and the second on both ABC and ESPN 3.
During those televised games, each of Lake Oswego's players have been featured in personalized TV intros that show them in their uniforms, share some of their favorite things (Ezra Carlston's favorite movie is "Field of Dreams," while Ryan Warhank's favorite band is AC/DC), as well as behind the scenes facts (Ellis Bayne, age 11, is the youngest player in the tournament, while Nate Cook and his family will move across the country at the end of the summer).
On Sunday, Aug. 22 — after their second-round game against South Dakota was postponed due to inclement weather — Lake Oswego's players and coaches got to hang out with players from the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels and Cleveland Indians players (including stars such as Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, José Ramírez and Triston McKenzie) were in Williamsport to celebrate youth baseball at the 2021 MLB Little League Classic at the renovated Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport.
There's been more excitement for LO's players and coaches, too, including daily fun and games at The Grove — the on-site lodgings for players and coaches — players filming TV ads for Topps (the bubble gum and trading card company), signing autographs, collecting swag and making lifelong memories every step of the way.
While much has been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic — including the 2020 Little League World Series — there have been many bright spots, too. Lake Oswego's players and coaches can attest to it.
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