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LO little leaguers become instant celebs

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Celebrity is a funny thing because it can creep up on you quickly. You might think that you are a poor speaker or that you are uninteresting with nothing to say, but poise is something that can be learned quickly.

That has certainly been true for this group of little leaguers in Williamsport, Pa. Two weeks ago, they were normal kids, watching Baseball Tonight from 3000 miles away. Tomorrow, they will meet the Baseball Tonight crew along with Ryan Howard. Oh… and also Jared from Subway. And all of it will start to seem progressively less odd for these kids if their successful run on the field continues.

There will be more interviews. More celebrity encounters. More photographs in the paper. Perhaps the thrill will begin to fade slightly.

When this tournament opened, they were star struck, gazing up at the enormous stadium they would soon be playing in, floored by the presence of anyone in an ESPN hat. Many of them were bashful while being interviewed and unsure of what to say.

But today, after just one game played and at least 10 encounters with the media, the kids were pros. They gave perfect soundbytes… they knew what The Oregonian reporter and I were looking for. They were thoughtful, gregarious and funny. And they were still grateful.

As I strolled up to the batting cages, the players whispered to themselves and nudged each other in not-so-subtle ways. They all still wanted to be interviewed, possibly even more now since they are experienced.

They have been in front of ESPN cameras and talked to numerous print reporters and have probably all been asked the same question multiple times. 'What is it like to be here?' 'Do you have any jitters?' 'What was it like taking the field for the first time?'

Perhaps the oddest phenomenon has involved autograph seekers. Many of the local kids, those who bring sheets of cardboard to the game in order to slide down the large grass hill in the outfield, flock to anyone in a little league hat and are genuinely impressed and excited for an autograph.

Stranger still are the middle-aged men seeking autographs hoping that perhaps one day, one of these players will become a Hall of Famer, making his 40-year-old ink scribble more valuable.

And again, this has almost become routine for these players. At the beginning of this event, an autograph request would garner a sheepish look. Now they practically ask, 'Who should I make it out to?'

It is funny to watch someone mature so quickly and I hope that these players will remain courteous and professional even if they become the most famous baseball player in history. And, at the same time, I hope that the excitement of someone genuinely wanting to talk to them and to share their thoughts with others will never wear off.