Steeped in tradition like no other event in youth sports, the Little League World Series has captured the attention of baseball fans everywhere since Williamsport, Pa., won the first championship two years after the end of World War II.
Played every August in South Williamsport, Pa., a town of about 6,500 nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, the LLWS holds an allure that transcends sports.
Jack Wideman, the coach of the McAllister Park all-star team that has gotten off to a 2-0 start in this year's tournament, was succinct Monday when asked why he thinks the popularity of the LLWS has endured for generations.
"It brings people together and I think the fans enjoy seeing the kids playing their hearts out," Wideman said. "There's an innocence to it."
McAllister Park, representing the Southwest Region, plays the Southeast Region champion at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lamade Stadium. The Southeast champs, from Goodlettsville, Tenn., are also 2-0.
The winner advances to the U.S. championship game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The loser plays the West-New England winner in an elimination game Thursday night, with the survivor earning a berth in the U.S. title game.
Sixteen teams, eight U.S. and eight international squads, started the tournament.
McAllister Park 17-1 in playoffs
McAllister Park Little League, located in northeast San Antonio, made history in 2009 when it became the first team from the city to play in the LLWS. The MPLL all-stars went 3-0 in pool play before losing to eventual champion Chula Vista, Calif., representing the West Region, in the U.S. championship game.
Mexico edged the San Antonians 5-4 in the third-place game.
McAllister Park, 17-1 in the playoffs, opened this year's tournament with a 5-2 victory over Mid-Atlantic (N.J.) on Friday and rolled past Great Lakes (Ind.) 13-3 on Sunday.
Wideman said he's been impressed with how his players have carried themselves on and off the field since the team arrived in South Williamsport on Saturday night.
"They're pretty mature kids for being just 12 and 13 years old," Wideman said. "They don't get frazzled. They come to work and they play hard."
Wideman's son, Landry, a third baseman and pitcher, is one of 13 players on the Southwest champions' roster.
The players, all of whom will be in the seventh grade this year, were 11 or 12 when the season started. Twelve of the 13 players attend middle school at Bradley, Bush, Eisenhower, Jackson or Tejeda, all in the North East ISD. One player is a student at Buckner Fanning Christian School.
Wideman: 'It's not all about baseball'
"These kids are a special group," Wideman said. "They get it. They just love playing ball. The environment up here is great. It's unbelievable how big the crowds are, but our kids are getting used to playing in that environment.
"It's been great to see them interact with kids from other teams and other countries. It's not all about baseball. After we practice, the kids have free time to go sight-seeing with their parents and just enjoy themselves."
Wideman said each day at the LLWS has had its special moments, and not all of them have come on the diamond.
Besides being outstanding baseball players, the MPLL all-stars have proven to be exemplary ambassadors for San Antonio.
"When our kids saw the team from Africa, they noticed that those kids didn't have much," Wideman said. "No batting gloves, no cleats. Before I know it, our players are going through their bags and looking for stuff to give to the African team. It made me feel good as a coach because this is something they did on their own.
"We take so much for granted that it's incredible. When we raise our kids to do things like this, we know we're doing the right thing. It gives you a good feeling."
The LLWS has been a family affair for Wideman, 51. Besides coaching his son, he's had plenty of support in the stands from his wife, D'Ann; mother, Beverly; and two daughters, Lindsey and Laine.
"I don't know what I did to deserve this, but I'm thankful to be here because this is special," Wideman said. "It's been one of the best experiences I've ever had."