Little League baseball players prepare for national spotlight

WARNER ROBINS -- After much debate, the North Carolina players finally decided on a cheer.

Then they changed it.

“That is stupid,” said one to mumbles of agreement.

And then they changed it again, deciding to all fall down after their regular “1-2-3 Greenville” cheer.

This was important because they are, after all, going to be nationally televised on ESPN2 in Wednesday’s semifinal game of the Little League Baseball Southeastern Regional Tournament. North Carolina plays Tennessee at 1 p.m., followed by Virginia versus Georgia at 6 p.m.

The championship game will be at 7 p.m. Friday and televised live on ESPN.

Even the coaches were losing patience after the third take of trying to get the players to say their names loud enough for the microphones to hear.

“Holton, you sound like Ricky Bobby,” coach Trent Britt told Holton Ahlers after the first take, referencing a Will Ferrell character in the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

After finishing their starting lineup, the team headed up to the press box to talk with sportscaster Clay Matvick, who will spend a lot of time talking about the players.

“I like the fact that this is a big-time setting,” said Matvick, who, along with analyst Chris Singleton, will announce the games.

This year is Matvick’s third at the tournament, and he is looking forward to the crowds that having a local team in the tournament will bring. Warner Robins American Little League is representing Georgia in the semifinals.

He noted this year was the fifth anniversary of when a team from WRALL was crowned World Series champions in 2007.

“This is a great precursor for Williamsport the way they do it here,” Matvick said, referencing the Pennsylvania home of the Little League Baseball World Series.

Producer Matt Leach is at his first Southeastern regional, but he has experience at other regionals as well as at Williams-port, Pa.

Leach has been poring through notes from each team, trying to determine what tidbits of information to give to the audience during the broadcast.

“We spend a great deal of the time trying to get to know the teams to see what makes each team unique,” he said.

The large white trailer that houses ESPN’s production is modest on the outside, but on the inside are three departments, each having a role in the live feed as well as what might be replayed. Seven cameras will be going during the semifinal games.

ESPN brings a crew of about 30 people to work the games, from the technical director to the on-screen graphics department.

Dan McVan will be directing the operation.

He said a loss during the championship game is probably the most difficult for the players because they get so close to playing in the World Series and don’t quite make it.

“There is more bummage of the kids,” McVan said.

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