WARNER ROBINS -- While most children in Houston County were just getting out of school Thursday, 11- and 12-year-old baseball players from across the Southeast poured out of decorated vans to get their first glimpse of Little League Southeast Park.
Its the most amazing field Ive ever seen, Floridas Zachary Galinis said.
The Florida team, represented by Martin County North Little League, is making its first appearance in the Little League Baseball Southeast Regional Tournament this week. The also tournament features teams from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The teams from Florida have a longer road than most, as they have district, sectionals and then state tournaments. Others, like Georgia, just have district and state tournaments.
Martin County played in two games Saturday, the semifinals Sunday and the championship Monday. The players and coaches arrived in town at 1 a.m. on Thursday.
Florida has the first game at 10 a.m. on Friday against North Carolina. The players were a bit wide-eyed about the experience but moved around the complex as a team. From the hill in the outfield to the water fountains, the boys were a pack.
This is the Easter bunny, Christmas and the tooth fairy all wrapped up in one, Florida manager Mark Rodgers said.
For Galinis, going to South Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series has been his on his wish list from Santa Claus since he was 8.
It is my dream to play there, the 12-year-old said.
The first step is to make it past regional play the next seven days.
Rodgers hopes the routines he instilled in his team will help get them through the first game jitters.
We still have to get 18 outs, and at 10 a.m., there are just 18 kids on a baseball field having fun, he said.
Along with the players, managers and coaches, eight umpires also were getting a briefing from Marshall Casey, the Southeastern umpire-in-chief. The umpires are chosen each year by the staff at the regional headquarters.
As some players sat in the stands and watched the field maintenance crew work as the weather alternated from a heavy downpour to bright sun, other players and parents were in the gift shop buying souvenirs.
Bill and Kathy Weekly made the 10-hour drive from Barboursville, W.Va., to watch their son play. They were $250 poorer once they left the gift shop.
We were here when they opened the doors, Kathy Weekly said.
The couple has friends driving in from Florida to watch West Virginia take on Alabama at 1 p.m.
She hoped the team will make it to the next round. West Virginia has made it to the Little League World Series only once, in 1951.
This is a once in a lifetime thing, she said.