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LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES : World Series in 'the Middle of Nowhere' : Little League: Williamsport has a mystique--and its pastoral beauty is a far cry from the Southland--but it lacks enough hotel rooms or easy access for families of Long Beach All-Stars.

August 27, 1992|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Not far from Lamade Stadium, home of the Little League World Series, the Susquehanna River flows past acres of hemlock and spruce trees as it winds around Bald Eagle Mountain.

Despite the picturesque nature of north-central Pennsylvania, the pilgrimage from the West Coast has not been without its pitfalls for parents and fans of the Long Beach All-Stars, who are playing in the series here this week.

No flights come directly here. The roads aren't as good as at home. And there aren't enough hotel rooms.

So most Long Beach fans spent 10 or more hours in the air--including a few on small, propeller-driven planes--just to get fairly close to Williamsport. Then they had to rent cars and drive four or more hours on undulating valley highways.

"We're in the middle of nowhere," said J. Rodney Shelley, father of center fielder Randall Shelley, as he surveyed the countryside with his video camera.

He was on the grounds of the three-story brick headquarters of Little League Baseball, which looks down on the Susquehanna as cool breezes waft up from the river's banks.

"We're just not used to this in Southern California," said Shelley, whose trip with his wife, Dawn, took 20 hours and included a plane change in St. Louis and two hours lost in Philadelphia in a rented van.

The Long Beach fans, accustomed to urban hustle and bustle, have needed a few days to get used to the gentler pace here.

"It's obviously a small town," said Little League First Vice President Steve Keener, who lives in the Williamsport area. "With it comes the hospitality and graciousness that you don't get in the big city."

Big cities, of course, have more hotel rooms. Only 1,500 are available here, and most are booked more than a year in advance by businesses and Little League dignitaries. Because teams don't qualify for the World Series until two or three days before it begins, loyal spectators and parents are at a disadvantage in selecting choice locations, unless they want to camp out.

Only players and coaches are assured of a place to stay--they are housed free in a tree-shrouded, non-air-conditioned compound called International Grove, which is next to Little League headquarters.

Shelley lucked out on lodging. He found a room at the City View Lodge, a rustic inn overlooking Lamade Stadium's center field. The City View is supposedly booked nearly five years in advance, but a dozen rooms opened up when a team from Northern California failed to qualify for the series.

Many Long Beach fans are staying more than an hour away, down Interstate 80 in Danville, which by Southern California standards barely qualifies as a truck stop.

"It's too far," said Bill Stuart, father of first baseman Ryan Stuart, who arrived in the area at 5 a.m. Sunday after two plane changes and a four-hour drive. He found a room at another hotel in South Williamsport, but the innkeeper said he might have "to bounce us around from room to room each day because nothing permanent is open."

Wayne Beaver, whose grandson, Ryan, plays shortstop, waited until the team won the Western Regional title in San Bernardino last Thursday before looking for a place to stay. His daughter-in-law, Cathy Beaver, called about two dozen places before she found a bed-and-breakfast inn in Jersey Shore, Pa., about an hour east of Williamsport.

John Beaver, Ryan's father, and his wife, Linda, left Southern California at 7 a.m. Saturday but didn't arrive in Williamsport until 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Among other things, the travelers ran out of gas and couldn't find a place to eat.

There were other harrowing tales, but most were quickly forgotten because of the mystique of this town of 32,000, which swells to twice that amount this time each summer.

"Everyone in Little League knows about Williamsport," John Beaver said as he watched the players pose for a photo Sunday morning on a grassy knoll overlooking the ballpark and hazy river valley. "But to be in Williamsport, it's hard to put it into words. You see it on TV, but the setting doesn't hit you until now."

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