It took a few years of hard work to get there, but Upper Providence never wavered in its goal: to play in the Little League World Series.
Turns out, that day is today.
Many people from Northeast Pennsylvania will be playing close attention when the 10- to 12-year-olds from the Philadelphia suburb of Oaks take on Lake Oswego, Oregon at 1 p.m. in Williamsport.
Upper Providence is led by manager Ben Ludwig, a Dickson City native and a 1995 graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School.
His son Aidan, is the team’s cleanup hitter and right fielder. He batted .500 in the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament.
“I brought my boys here many times over the years as spectators and it’s unbelievable to think that now, Aidan, is here with his teammates as a player,” Ludwig, 44, said. “Also visited Williamsport when I was a kid with my dad John, who was also my Little League coach.
“It’s really special to have my dad and my mom Anne coming back to Williamsport to watch their grandson play and me coach.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s World Series. Things will look a little bit different this year than in the past.
The tournament does not have the usual representation of international squads. While 16 teams will still participate, to limit a possible spread between international participants, all 16 will be from the United States, as opposed to the 50-50 U.S. and international mix from previous years. Also, attendance will be limited to 250 fans per team per game.
With so much support from friends and family, Upper Providence has had to turn people away. However, Ludwig’s team has not allowed the differing circumstances to damper what he called the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Because of that, both the runner-up and champion of each U.S. region were able to punch their ticket to Williamsport this year, whereas only the region winners made it previously. Therefore, Upper Providence had already clinched its spot in the biggest stage in Little League baseball by the time the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship game against Toms River East rolled around.
However, Ludwig said his players were not satisfied with only that.
“Within an hour or two after we clinched it, they started talking about ‘what can we do to win the (Regional Championship) game Saturday, coach?’ ”
And win the Regional Championship game they did. This victory afforded Upper Providence the privilege of donning the traditional colors of the Mid-Atlantic champions in Williamsport. Ludwig said receiving those jerseys was an awesome experience for the kids.
“It was like the best Christmas ever,” Ludwig said.
However, the jerseys were not the only reason Upper Providence was so focused on winning. This group had had its sights set on the regional title long before the new rules, the pandemic and even middle school.
“A bunch of our teams went to Bristol, Connecticut (headquarters of Little League Baseball’s Eastern Region) when they were 8 years old, and that had an immediate effect. They started talking about the Little League World Series,” Ludwig said.
To achieve their dream, the team’s players have had to make sacrifices. With 14 players on the roster and only nine positions on a baseball field, many talented players have been asked to sacrifice the batting slot or playing time they may be accustomed to for the goodness of the team, something Ludwig said has never been a problem for his group.
“They do whatever they can to help the team win,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig is running a full team. He said all 14 of his players recorded an extra base hit in the previous stage and expressed confidence in the abilities of every player on the roster.
Ludwig expressed appreciation for who he called three of his team’s biggest fans: his sister and two nephews, who live in Old Forge. He said he received an outpouring of support for the team over the last few weeks and he believes it helped take the team all the way to Williamsport.
So, how did his boys do it?
“They worked their butts off,” Ludwig said.