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Little League fans get stuck on pin trading

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. —

In a lot of ways, colorful, collectible trading pins are the baseball cards of the Little League World Series.

Children and grown-ups alike tote them around in soft, notebook-style binders at what, for some here, amounts to a weeklong swap meet.

The pins, akin to the button-on flair that wait staff at theme restaurants sport, are almost legal tender in some parts of Williamsport. Downtown at the near-century-old Genetti Hotel, where black-and-white photos of past luncheon and dinner speakers from Pete Rose to Cy Young hang on the walls, each year a ballroom is crammed full of pin-trading aficionados. Over at the Little League complex, where two stadiums host games at the 16-team, international gathering, there is a tent set up on a practice field where pin lovers congregate.

The other night, stadium usher Bob McGowan, a retiree and volunteer who has been attending the series for 16 years, was at the tent with his wife, Maxine, who was sporting a pink, “Real Pin Traders Wear Pink” T-shirt.

“She’s about as hard-core as they come,” McGowan said. “I do the ushering and she trades pins.”

Maxine McGowan figures she has 700 or so in her collection.

“I don’t really go for anything in particular,” she said. “If it’s a cute pin, I’ll trade for it. I’ll trade any kid. ...Kids can come up with pins stuck in wash rags (instead of fancy foam that some traders use to protect them). It doesn’t matter. People will trade with them.”

She says there isn’t too much wheeling and dealing involved, that it’s mostly about sharing your wares with folks from all over.

“Somebody comes up, points at your bag and that’s how it works,” Maxine McGowan said. “I’ve traded with kids that don’t even speak English. We had some kids in here from Poland. They come and point, and I’d point at one of theirs, and that’s how we made the trade.”

Late last week at the parade of teams through downtown, some young fans of the Warner Robins American squad had already scored some pins to swap, many of them tiny replicas of jerseys of the teams represented at this year’s Series.

Blake Henderson, a sixth-grader at Bonaire Middle School, who was there with the family of Robins all-star Jake Farrell, was sitting on the curb with his dozen or so pins laid out on the street in front of him.

“They’re fun and you get new ones,” he said. “It’s fun to trade them.”

His buddy and classmate at Bonaire Middle, Will Smith, said, “I like seeing what other people have. The pins are all just different.”

Jackson Farrell, who attends Mossy Creek Middle School, said his favorite pin was one depicting the aqua-blue jersey of the Asia-Pacific team.

He said he likes the concept because “you can trade for better pins.”

Whitey Mausteller of Williamsport has been part of the pin-exchanging scene for 14 years. He got started with his son, but his son gave it up. He didn’t. Now he has some 4,000 pins.

“There’s just so many of them, you can’t believe what people make,” Mausteller said of a collection that ranges from Bubblicious pins to Subway to Honda to Ace Hardware to ones to ones commemorating World Series’ past from local banks.

He said you buy some, for a few bucks mostly, to get started and then build your collection from there.

“It’s just the enjoyment of all the people,” he said. “The teams come down here and trade and you get to meet them. I enjoy it.”

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