WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- No, actor and former Little Leaguer Kevin Costner said, when asked if he had ever been to Williamsport.
"But I've dreamed about it."
Costner's allusion to his movie, "Field of Dreams," also was a reflection of what goes through the minds of Little Leaguers around the globe. After 54 years, 12-year-olds still lay in bed in wonder of making it to Howard J. Lamade Stadium in August.
While the world around it has changed immeasurably, Williamsport maintains a sense of innocence, a place where hot dogs still cost 75 cents, a soda goes for a quarter, and kids still whoop and holler and cry when the final is made.
The challenge facing Little League Baseball as in the new century is how to preserve its history and protect its relevance.
Starting next year, the World Series will change dramatically. A new stadium is under construction, allowing the Series to double to 16 teams.
With that come concerns that the corporate world eventually will force itself into the picture.
"That's a fair concern," Little League president and CEO Stephen Keener said. "I think it's incumbent upon us to keep the proper perspective. We've worked very hard to try to keep the focus on kids playing the game on the field."
Even as officials dealt with controversy on two fronts last week, it was the kids who stole the show.
There was the team from Vancouver, Wash., which drew its inspiration from Tyler "TJ" Jacobs, a 6-year-old recovering from brain surgery. Vancouver also earned praise for not laying down in its preliminary round finale, something that -- because of the Series' complex tiebreaking formula -- would have clinched it a berth in the U.S. Pool final.
Then there were the Little Leaguers from Maracaibo, Venezuela, who arrived with one bat but wound up winning the title, beating Bellaire, Texas, 3-2 on Saturday.
"This is a team that has a bunch of fighters," Maracaibo manager Eduvino Quevedo said. "They're from a very poor neighborhood in Maracaibo and they don't give up very easily."
It was Quevedo, following Maracaibo's 5-4 win over Tokyo in the International Pool final, who celebrated by hugging every player on the field -- including Tokyo's.
Ruben Mavarez, who pitched a four-hitter and struck out Bellaire's Hunter Johnson for the final out with runners at the corners, called it a big step in his baseball career because not many kids have an opportunity to pitch on such a grand stage.
It was a challenging two weeks for Little League Baseball.
Along with sidestepping criticism over its tiebreaking rule, the Little League board took steps to return to girls-only softball after the Philippines forfeited the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series over boys competing for the first time.
Keener acknowledged the tests Little League faces.
"Any time you are a program with the magnitude of Little League Baseball, our program is going to be challenged by the same social and economic challenges that many other organizations and countries feel," he said. "Our challenge is to adapt to those."
Costner, one of three enshrined in Little League's Hall of Excellence last weekend, was left awestruck.
"I like the idea that it stays here, and it's something that one anticipates to come to," Costner said. "The birthplace, it's all very appropriate. You should hold on to it."
Perhaps Bellaire pitcher Ross Haggard said it best, when asked what it took to get to Williamsport.
"Don't think it's impossible to get here," Haggard said. "Because that's what we thought, and we got here."
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