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Let the game begin

Lake Oswego Little League team arrives at World Series

After a 13-hour travel day I am safe and sound in Williamsport, Pa. and I am awaiting Lake Oswego's debut in the Little League World Series.

The trip yesterday reminded me a bit of "Heart of Darkness," as each stop seemingly took me further away from civilization (but hopefully not closer to madness), culminating in a 90-minute drive from Scranton to Williamsport, which is truly in the middle of nowhere.

Driving up the two-lane highway from the hotel to the stadium made me wonder how this tiny city was picked to host what has become a major event. The complex sneaks up on you as you pass rundown diners and even an active drive-in movie theater and suddenly, on your right, there is a state-of-the-art baseball stadium.

The complex itself features six fields, two of which will be used for competition.

The media has descended on the city. EPSN alone has probably sent a crew as large as Williamsport's entire population.

Lake Oswego will play its first two games in the larger, Howard Lamade Stadium, which features a huge grass cheering section in the outfield. If the team members were feeling any jitters this morning, it didn't show. During the briefing for teams and family members, Lake Oswego's players were busy texting and acting like you would expect them to: Like 12-year olds. When it was announced that major league player Ryan Howard (last season's National League Rookie of the Year) will be meeting each team and taking a picture with them, the Lake Oswego players were excited. But when they were told that they would all be receiving a free meal from Subway later in the week, their eyes got big and they high-fived in genuine exhilaration.

It is probably safe to say that the parents are the most nervous of all parties involved. Parents from other teams were the only ones who had questions for coordinators: "What kind of security is provided?" "Where are we allowed in the stadium?" "How do we get a VIP seating pass?" "What can our posters say?" And every answer given reiterated that the 10-day event is for the players, the ones who are responsible for parents and media members being here. Their positive experience is paramount.

Parents have jerseys with their children's names on the back of them. One mom was even wearing a homemade button with her son's face on it and a sister to a player was waving a self-made flag sporting her brother's name in gold letters.

But the boys just want to play. Even though this event receives national prominence, the focus is still on making sure that the participants have as much fun as possible with baseball at the center of everything. It is sometimes difficult to keep that in mind as these boys are suddently thrust into the national spotlight. And it is difficult to keep that in mind while watching 80 mph fastballs, perfectly executued double plays and diving catches, that they are just kids, albeit with remarkable talent.

And while the enormity of this experience probably won't fully set in until years from now when they are watching some of their past competitors competing in the big leagues, that is probably a good thing. Until then, it is refreshing that they can still be excited about the prospect of a free sandwich.