It was AMAZING! Imagine being 12 and being treated like you’re Bryce Harper where ever you go. That’s pretty much what it was like.
Every bat, cleat, and apparel company sent us stuff. And I dont just mean some struff. There are still unused bats in wrappers sitting in my parents attic that my brother and I never even got around to using. No lie.
If you were wearing any of your team apparel around the complex, it was nearly impossible to walk more than a few yards without being asked to sign 15 minutes worth of autographs. Everyone wanted to take a picture with you too. Especially the girls. The girls were everywhere, and they were definately on the prowl. I vaguely remember there even being a dance one night after the Championship game. All of the players from all of the teams got together, and a bunch of the local girls met in a big cafeteria to show off their dance moves. I’ll never forget watching the Latin American team that night. They were definately the best dancers and the least intimidated by the girls. There was some serious smooching taking place in darkened corners that night.
I was a middle infielder and pitcher for the US South team back in 1996. I wasn’t fortunate enough to shine on the big stage like a lot of my teammates. I hit the first batter I faced while pitching in Game 2, and I was later caught at shortstop on national TV with a split in my pants directly in the groin region. But other than that I did okay.
Back then there were only four US teams and 4 International teams. The Chinese Taipei were the big boys on the block back then. They crushed everybody. We had quite the squad ourselves that year. We run ruled everyone in the US pool. We were expecting a big climatic showdown with the Chinese in the Championship game.
The Baseball Gods had other plans. My team ended up losing in the US Championship game so we never got to face the Chinese Taipei. We kinda got a raw deal too. We were 3-0 (3 run rule victories) entering the US Championship and lost to a 1-2 team that we had already previously beaten. They advanced to the overall Championship against the Chinese at 2-2. While we were sent home packing with a 3-1 record. It was a bummer for sure. So, like most 12 year olds would do, I balled my little eyes out.
But, I quickly cheered up. Much to my suprise when we returned back to our hometown we were celebrities. We landed at the airport and were police escorted to the center of town where a huge crowd awaited to congratulate us. There were 12-14 year old girls everywhere with signs that had things written on them like, “I LOVE YOU TREY” or “MARK WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME?” Again, this is no exaggeration. They held a parade for us the next day. We were kings.
It was an amazing experience. One I will definately never forget. I haven’t been back to Williamsport since. I can see it change a little bit each year. The complex keeps getting bigger and bigger and fancier and fancier. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, the level of play has slid a bit due to the rise of travel ball. Nonetheless, it was a magical place for me and always will be. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. You may not be stopped at every turn by adoring fans like we were, but I’m sure it’ll still be worth your while.