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“Groundhog Day” – Softball Style

As the scene unfolded before me I felt a kinship to Bill Murray in the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ I was sure I had seen this all take place previously.

Excited 11 & 12-year old girls were saying their good-bys, stowing their gear and posing for a multitude of pictures. Onlookers were smiling and waving. A few mothers were shedding tears as South Williamsport’s Little League Eastern Regional Softball Champions were boarding the bus that would take them to the Newark Airport for their flight to Portland, Oregon and the 2019 Little League Softball World Series.

It was indeed a first for the players and coaches and a community swelling with pride in their accomplishments had showered them with attention during the ten days between their regional championship and their departure for Portland. As I stood in the crowd with the excitement all around me my mind flashed back to the many times I had been involved in seeing teams off to World Series competition.

In my 13-years as Little League Baseball’s Central Regional Director from 1973-1984 one of my responsibilities was to escort the Central Regional Champions from the regional tournament site to the Little League World Series right here in my own back yard. Thirteen times I had the privilege of watching as Midwest communities had done the very same thing my friends and neighbors were doing on this quiet Sunday morning — providing a sendoff for pre-teen youngsters starting off on a journey they had only dreamed about and never thought possible. But now it was reality.

The night before the team’s departure I shared a conversation with Coach Cory Goodman as he busily cleaned off tables and accepted well-wishes during a spaghetti dinner benefit provided by the Genetti Hotel. Hundreds of people were in attendance, one of the many fund-raising events that had taken place to help with expenses related to the World Series trip.

“Since we returned home from winning the Regional Tournament it has been extremely busy,” Goodman said. “We’ve had so many people reach out and want to do something for the girls. There were a few instances that we had to respectfully put on hold until after we get back, as we tried to maintain the focus of keeping things as normal as possible. We needed to maintain a regular practice schedule. That was a challenge but we got our practices in and I think the girls are ready to get after it when we get to Portland.”

Despite the unusual down time his team has had between the Regional and World Series Tournaments, Goodman believes his team will be O.K.

“With the overwhelming support we have received I think the girls know that they are not only playing for themselves, but they are playing for South Williamsport and the surrounding areas. Once we get to Portland we’ll have the chance for a few practices before our first game so the girls will have a chance to settle in to those new experiences that will be awaiting them.”

In addition to those memories forged during my Little League administrative tenure, Jean and I also had the thrill of seeing our daughter, Denise, play on a Williamsport Area Big League Softball team that won the 1985 Big League Softball World Series in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ironically, one of her teammates on that team was Amy Barger (now Kriebel) whose daughter, Lacey, is an outfielder on this year’s South squad.

With the uniqueness of having played on a World Series team and now seeing her daughter have the same experience, Kriebel was also having a bit of a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment.

“That Big League World Series absolutely met my expectations,” Kriebel reflected. “I can only hope that these girls enjoy their World Series experience as much as I did. A lot of these girls are a bit shell-shocked right now and I don’t think they really understand what is happening because they are only 12-years old. I think it will really begin to hit them when they board the plane for Oregon. Right now they are just like ‘ooh, this is neat’ but when they get to the airport it will begin to sink in.”

“I shared my experiences with Lacey about what I experienced playing in the Big League Softball World Series before she left for the Eastern Regional Tournament in Bristol,” Kriebel added. “I wrote her a letter and told her to open it when she got to Bristol. In the letter I told her that you have to work hard, play like a champion, play like it is the last game of your lives and play for all those kids who have disabilities and can’t play softball. You’ve got to lay it all out on the field and don’t regret anything while you are out there.”

Upon her arrival in Bristol, Lacey read her Mom’s letter to herself the night before their first game. The mother to daughter letter contained a heartfelt message that Lacey wanted to share.

“Lacey told me she decided that the whole team needed to hear what I had written in that letter” said Kriebel. “So she read the letter to the team before each game they played at Regionals. The girls enjoyed it and they took that letter to Oregon with them.”

No matter where the departure point may be, when a community’s youngsters have earned a trip to a World Series tournament, memories will be made that will last a lifetime. When the South girls return to the Birthplace of Little League Baseball, they will have their own tales to add to the community’s historic lore.

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