SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — It's the opening day of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport. After canceling the event last year, people are excited to see some baseball. But things look a lot different this year.
The two biggest differences at the Little League World Series this year: No fans and no international teams.
Typically, the first day of the Little League World Series is filled with opening ceremonies and thousands of cheering fans. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's event looks much different. The games started at Volunteer Stadium with only players' families and friends in the stands.
The other big difference this year is no international teams. There are still 16 teams, but they are all from the United States. The teams are made up of the eight regional champions and the eight runners-up.
"You'll see two teams that would typically be in the Mid-Atlantic—Pennsylvania and New Jersey—they're just going to be on different sides of the bracket. One will be playing for the Hank Aaron bracket, and one will be playing for the Tom Seaver bracket," explained Brian McClintock, Little League World Series media relations.
Little League usually encourages the players to mingle and spend time with each other. This year the focus is staying with their teams.
"We have games that they can play, wiffleball, get together and be outside, but we are asking them to stay with their teams," McClintock said.
"It's been really fun. We got to do a lot of great things. We received a lot of great things, and I'm thankful for the things that we received," said Kale Harris, a player in the Great Lakes region.
Players, coaches, and umpires were tested for COVID-19 when they arrived. Those who are not vaccinated will be tested every other day. Parents we spoke with say they are happy with all the precautions.
"I think it's great," Chris Soares said. "I think you've got to do it. They're being responsible on their end, and you have to be responsible on your end."
Little League is keeping the players isolated. Many have kept in touch with their families with Facetime or phone calls. It's been three weeks since Soares has hugged his son.
"It's eating me up inside! We're only texting and talking on the phone, but we're here now, and we're going to be as loud as we can," said Soares.
While most things are different here, one thing does remain the same: These kids are excited to be here, and they are ready to play some baseball.
"It's really fun to be here because I've watched it as many years as I could, and I've always had a dream to come here and play," said Jaxon Shufeldt, a player in the Great Lakes region