- - Thursday, August 15, 2019

For young baseball players across America, it’s the ultimate goal: Make it to Williamsport, the quaint town in north-central Pennsylvania that hosts the Little League World Series, and win it all. For the first time in 25 years, a team from Virginia has a chance to chase that dream.

The Loudoun South team from South Riding, Virginia, will open play Friday at the Little League World Series against a team from Barrington, Rhode Island, after getting rained out Thursday.

Williamsport isn’t just kid stuff, either. Not anymore.

The games are televised on ESPN and even Major League Baseball has gotten into the act: The Pirates and Cubs will play a regular-season game Sunday at a minor league field in Williamsport, part of a now-annual MLB series to highlight and support the youth game.

Before this year, the most recent Virginia team to reach Williamsport was the 1994 Central Springfield squad.

Loudoun South beat Georgia’s entry 12-2 to win the Southeast regional title Aug. 7, behind the pitching of Justin Lee and a grand slam from Chase Obstgarten.

Washington Nationals first baseman Matt Adams never played in the Little League World Series, but he knows all about the tradition of rolling down the hill beyond the center field fence in Williamsport.

Adams grew up about 90 miles southwest, in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania, and he made trips to watch the Little League World Series as a boy.

He remembers scrambling to “round up a piece of cardboard or anything” he could get his hands on “to go down that hill.”

The hulky slugger was asked what advice he would give the Loudoun team. Adams kept it simple.

“Have fun,” he said.

That may be a little harder these days, in the era of travel baseball, pushy parents and college coaches who keep offering scholarships to younger and younger players. But for a few days in Williamsport, the players and coaches are at the pinnacle of their sport.

“There’s a lot of pressure on these kids,” Nationals infielder Howie Kendrick said. “You’ve just got to remember to be a kid and enjoy it and love it. I think when all of us were kids, we just enjoyed the game and we did it because we loved it. I hope that all of them love it.”

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, currently on the injured list, didn’t make it to Williamsport but did play with other future big leaguers while growing up, such as former Mets star David Wright and fellow University of Virginia product Mark Reynolds.

“Any sport needs to continue to have young guys and girls play,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “Having a team be on ESPN … maybe that will encourage some people to play that wouldn’t have before. It’s definitely a great thing.”

Central East Maui Little League from Hawaii is back in Pennsylvania, attempting to defend its 2018 title. No team has returned to the Little League World Series and won a second straight championship since a team from Long Beach, California, in 1992 and 1993.

Since 2005, Hawaii has claimed three LLWS titles, the most by any state. Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki is one of several pro ball players to come out of the surprising baseball pipeline state.

The Little League World Series is divided into an international bracket and a bracket for U.S. teams. In 2012 a team from Uganda became the first from Africa to take part.

⦁ Based in part on wire reports.

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