Little League World Series provided unique experience
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
If I had to pick one memorable experience out of the hundreds in the past nine years at The Advertiser, it would have to be covering Waipi'o's championship run in the 2008 Little League World Series.
The LLWS is a very, very unique event because it combines the innocence and purity of youth sports with the electricity and big-time, mass-media atmosphere usually associated with major college or professional athletics.
It is not held anywhere near a metropolitan center, yet draws teams and fans from every corner of the United States and the globe.
I was one of 18,000 Hawai'i fans at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A small group of us followed Derrick Low and Washington State through NCAA Tournament stops in Sacramento, Denver and Charlotte, N.C. in 2007 and 2008. I was among several hundred who followed Tiger Woods' round of 11-under 61 at the 2002 Grand Slam in Po'ipu.
I know a few Hawai'i people who have attended the Final Four, the Super Bowl, the World Series, the BCS Championship ...
But I still think the LLWS is different from all of those other events, because for Hawai'i people it's something you would only take the time and trouble to attend if your son or grandson were playing.
First of all, as a kid you only get one shot, since it only is for 12-year-olds. And just to qualify, your team has to go through a long and challenging gauntlet of district, state and regional playoffs.
The travel to Williamsport, Pa., is an adventure in itself. Since Waipi'o had to make it out of pool play to advance to the U.S. Championship game, I didn't know till Wednesday evening that I would be flying out the next day. I had to go to San Francisco, to Phoenix, to Philadelphia, to Williamsport/Montoursville in a small propeller plane, then drive some 40 miles through a dark country road to get to the team motel in Danville.
But once there, it was almost like home: Parents in a makeshift "hospitality room," with coolers of beer on the ground and fresh poke on the table, talking story till the wee hours.
Driving the next morning through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania ... farm ... after farm ... after farm ... like a scene out of "Green Acres."
Then you finally get to South Williamsport, looking for the stadium while driving through quaint Norman Rockwell neighborhoods. Out of nowhere, just like Manoa Park, you see a bunch of fields and then the stadium, which looks like something out of the 1920s.
Then there's the thousands of fans from all over, yet something funny — no ticket booths, because there's no admission. Just walk right in.
It felt special because aside from the team and the parents and grandparents and brothers/sisters, I knew I probably was the only one who traveled all the way from Hawai'i for this. I felt like I had the inside scoop, something big that no one else in the Hawai'i media had access to.
That is a rare feeling.
And yet, these people were my friends. Kanoe Winchester (Pikai's dad) and his parents, I've known since I was 15. Glenn Tokunaga (Tanner's dad), is the Wai'anae AD whom I talk to all the time. I drank beer with Timo Donahue (manager/C-boy's dad) at Ala Wai Park after an AJA game couple years back.
Regular, everyday, local people suddenly on a huge national and world stage.
Then to see not just the 30 or so parents/family cheering for Waipi'o, but almost the entire stadium of about 20,000. Big upset vs. the studs from Louisiana, coming back from four runs down in the sixth inning. Then the pounding of heavily favored Mexico the next day. Watching the kids run around the field waving a huge Hawaiian flag.
You know almost the entire state of Hawai'i is watching on TV, yet feeling a huge responsibility as the only local media member there to tell the story.
The Derrick Low/Sweet 16 run was similar, but this was bigger and more rare. This was a whole team of local kids, not just one.
Anyway, sorry for the ramble, but I still get chicken skin remembering that weekend, and I will always feel a special connection to those boys and their families.
I feel like I got to share in something that less than .1 percent of anyone in Hawai'i will ever get to do themselves.
Mahalo for sending me!