NEW LONDON — David Kasel has always wanted to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Kasel, 53, had been involved in Little League for years, coaching teams in the Peoria, Illinois area before the family moved to New London three years ago.
Even when he got involved in the administrative side of baseball, a trip to the Little League World Series never seemed to be in the cards.
Until this year.
When his trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series didn’t pan out, Kasel went all out for the Little League World Series. So when the opportunity presented itself last month, Kasel jumped at the chance.
It turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime.
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“It was a great experience for me,” Kasel said. “I’ve always wanted to go there. I had watched it on TV for years. It’s so much cooler than what you see on TV. The topography makes it special. There are hills everywhere and the stadium is built in It was amazing.If you have never been there, you should definitely go.
Kasel, who helps organize the baseball and basketball leagues, was on crowd control duty for two weeks. He said the hardest part of the job was getting there.
“I didn’t have a car while I was there because I flew from Chicago to Hershey, Pennsylvania and then took a bus to Williamsport,” Kasel said. “They had a place called Bicycle Recycle where you could rent bikes, so I usually biked four miles to the stadium and back every day. You could buy them for $40 to $100. If it rained, I would leave my bike at the hotel and take a ride or take the bus a few times I walked it.
Kasel said he also performed bullpen duties, opening the bullpen doors for players and coaches, as well as hill and hurdle duties.
“We had to make sure that when the kids were sliding down the hill, they were jumping before the sidewalk so they ran into people walking on the sidewalk,” Kasel said. “We also had to keep the kids away from the hurdles. They always want to come into the hurdles to get closer to the action and ask the players for autographs.”
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Kasel said he worked on the hills during the Major League Baseball game at the stadium, making sure service lanes were cleared for players to walk to and from the stadium.
Kasel said one of the coolest things about the two weeks was the pins people were trading. It’s the latest Little League World Series craze.
“Every business sells lapel pins and people go back every year to buy new ones,” Kasel said. “Shuttle drivers, Uber drivers and security guards always ask for pins. I think it all started three or four years ago when a team from Chinese Taipei brought in pints. There’s even a large exhibit of pins in the on-site museum.”
Kasel said he was amazed at some of the stories fans shared with him.
“I spoke to a gentleman who was 79. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee and drove to the Little League World Series,” Kasel said. “Another lady I spoke to was from Oklahoma who took a bus for over 20 hours to get there. And there was a guy from England who made the trip the 24th time.”
Kasel was able to meet several celebrities, including ESPN announcer Tim Kurkjian.
But Kasel’s greatest claim to fame was playing Little League baseball with Hall of Famer Jim Thome in Peoria.
“I played on the same team as him. I even knocked him out once in Legion Baseball. He was just a little guy back then,” Kasel said. “The sad thing is that the field where Jim Thome played Little League Baseball in Peoria is now a dog park. It’s really sad that they haven’t done anything to honor someone like that. .”
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Kasel said the community support for the annual event is beyond belief. It’s an event every year, and the Little League World Series is quite extravagant.
“Adidas goes out of their way. They provide the teams with pants and cleats and they all have Easton hats and bats. It’s amazing all the coordination that goes into putting on the event,” Kasel said. “The baselines are completely straight. Even the grass weather is so clean. It’s the closest thing you can get to perfection.”
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA Today Network in Burlington, Iowa, who covered local sports for 32 years at The Hawk Eye. Contact him at [email protected]