Twelve Virginia Little League teams, including West Springfield, Vienna American and Fairfax National, are vying for the state title, the first step in the long march toward the 38th annual Little League world series in Williamsport, Pa.
The state tournament eliminations are being played at Springfield's Trailside Park through Saturday with the winner advancing to the Southern Regional Tournament in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Though odds and probabilities mean little to children who set their sites on such lofty goals, the Virginia winner will face a harsh reality.
"The odds are about one in 2,200 against any individual team from the southern conference making the series," says Cliff Glier, district administrator for Virginia Area 10 which includes Annandale, Fairfax, Chantilly, Culpeper, Prince William County and other localities.
Compounding the difficulties any team faces in becoming world champ is the fact that all tournaments are single elimination - one loss means a trip home with dashed dreams.
Glier, who for 10 years has been the public address announcer for the Little League world series games, earning the title of "the voice of the world series," has been involved in Little League for 21 years on a national and local level. The attraction, he says, is that "the Little League is a volunteer program. Community activity is the guts of the Little League - that's what makes it go."
Preparations for hosting the state tournament in Springfield have been in the works for a year, according to tournament director Pete Smith.
A partial list of Smith's responsibilities included fund-raising, since the host district provides lodging and meals for five adults per team and umpires, at a cost of about $3,500; finding private homes for the 126 visiting players; planning an $800 picnic for all players and their families; arranging for parking for 800 to 1,000 spectators; and making sure it doesn't rain.
"I pray a lot anyway," Smith said, "I'll say a few extra prayers that the weather holds out."
Smith's money comes from selling ads in a 100-page program, donations from Virginia's 12 Little League districts, and from what will be collected by litterally passing the hat during the third inning of the tournament games. There is no admission to Little League games.
Areas must bid for the state tournament several years in advance and an important consideration is the quality of the field, an area in which Trailside Park rates very high.
"The park is probably the best baseball facility around including high schools and RFK Stadium," Smith said of the three-field facility. For the tournament, one field will be used for parking, one for a warmup field and one for games.
"The county (Fairfax) bought the park in 1971, but it was completely developed by the Little League in a crescent shape with $11,000 worth of field construction," Smith said. "It's not used for any other sport."
Local teams have traditionally done well in the state tournament, providing the winner in five of the last six years. Smith calls this year's area teams "very strong" with Vienna American most often mentioned by others as a slight local favorite. Tuckahoe of Richmond, last year's state champion, is also expected to be strong again this year.
The most important thing to have in tournament play, according to Glier, is "strong pitching, then defense and then hitting."
Glier notes that "the ability level" of local Little Leaguers "hasn't changed much" despite a leveling off of registration in the area."There are still about 15,000 kids playing Little League ball in Northern Virginia," Glier says.
"Baseball isn't the easiest game in the world to learn to play. Learning the finer moves really takes experience and ability. It can put a lot of pressure on an individual player."
Still, he points out, the kids play, and still, the communities give their support.
The state championship game will begin Saturday at 11 a.m., weather permitting, and about an hour and a half later only one Virginia team will be left to buck the odds.