SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Gripping a shiny new aluminum bat, 12-year-old Patrick Marinaccio took some hacks in the batting cage and loved what he heard.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
The sweet sounds of contact are reverberating again through the sprawling Little League baseball complex in this blue-collar central Pennsylvania town.
The World Series begins today.
String together a few of those hits over the next 10 days on the pristine field at Lamade Stadium and Marinaccio and his teammates from Toms River, N.J., can take home one of the biggest prizes in youth sports and extend a U.S. string of five straight World Series titles.
A championship for the Toms River team would make them the second squad from the Jersey shore town to take a Little League crown. A different Toms River league sent a team that won the 1998 World Series and earned the nickname the “Beasts from the East.”
Of the 16 teams in South Williamsport, three others have a chance to bring their hometowns a second championship banner, though the same local league advanced in each case — Kaoshiung, Taiwan (1996), Columbus, Ga., (2006) and Waipahu, Hawaii (2008).
Four years removed from his World Series run and Georgia coach Randy Morris remains so familiar to a few workers at the Little League complex that they said “hellos” as he supervised infield practice for his boys.
This year there are a couple of new wrinkles to the Little League World Series rules.
First, the World Series tournament is moving from pool play to a double-elimination format in the first round, a change that Little League president Stephen Keener said eliminates the need for tiebreakers to determine which squads advance to the U.S. and international semifinals.
Pitch count rules intended to save wear on the arms of young hurlers have been modified so they match regular-season guidelines. Previously, a 12-year-old who threw at least 66 pitches was required to rest two days and one game off before pitching a tournament game again. Now, that pitcher must rest four days before taking the mound again.
Also, Little League has expanded the instant replay system used only in the World Series to include force outs, missed bases and hit batters, and allow managers to challenge certain calls.