The Little League World Series is back to its old self and more.
After no tournament in 2020 and no international clubs in 2021, both due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth baseball tournament has expanded to 20 teams from around the world that will play ball in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, starting Wednesday.
This year’s series marks the 75th anniversary of the first tournament, which has become a staple of life in central Pennsylvania, not to mention an economic boost for South Williamsport, where the resort is actually housed of the Little League, and Williamsport, across the West Branch. of the Susquehanna River. Together, the communities of some 35,000 people have eagerly awaited the return of fans and families.
“It’s been a tough few years here. We had a limited World Series last year, sure, but there’s nothing that can replace a full World Series,” Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter said. “It’s hard to really quantify, or even qualify, what that means.”
In 2021, only family and friends were allowed into the Little League complex’s two stadiums for games. The traditional large crowds in lawn chairs on the hill behind Lamade Stadium, which will host the championship on August 28, were missing.
Slaughter estimated the 2022 World Series will bring 85,000 people to his city, while adding that bringing the tournament back to full capacity could have a $40 million to $50 million impact on the community.
The mayor hopes that this year’s attendance will exceed the success of the pre-pandemic events. A number of factors come into play, including a return to a sense of normalcy and the excitement that comes with a landmark such as the 75th anniversary of the first tournament in 1947.
But a reorganization and expansion of the tournament field can also have an impact. The Little League World Series consists of 20 teams for the first time in 2022, after previously hosting 16 teams.
Two new regions were introduced in the United States: the metropolitan region that includes Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, and the mountain region that includes Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. A couple of new regions were also introduced internationally, with Panama and Puerto Rico earning bids for this year’s tournament.
A spokesman for the Little League World Series said the decision to introduce four new regions was intended to reflect the areas with the highest levels of Little League participation. More teams, however, means more parents and family members in attendance at the very least. And in the case of the Metro Region, specifically, the Northeast now hosts three World Series bids instead of two.
“I think (expansion) will absolutely increase attendance,” Slaughter said, “just because of the geographic location of this metro area. It’s obviously not that far from Williamsport, so people can drive here easily
If a secondary goal for the expansion was to get more states represented in the Little League World Series, the newly formed Mountain Region quickly pulled it off.
It’s hard to name a favorite in a double-elimination contest between players who aren’t even in high school, but it’s worth noting that Honolulu, the 2018 champion team and last year’s third-place team, is back again, and once further trained by Gerald. Ode
Meanwhile, some of Slaughter’s projected 85,000 attendees have started trickling into Williamsport. They will fill the seats of restaurants and other businesses in the city during their stays.
“It’s hard to really put into words,” Slaughter said. “I feel fortunate that we can host it here in Williamsport and that our businesses and industry will have some relief over the next two weeks. This is well-earned, considering what we’ve all been through these past few years.”
Max Ralph is a journalism student at Penn State.