They come here following a dream, these teenagers. Many of them find themselves far away from home and family in a foreign country, with strange customs and a different language. They are desperate to be successful and to make their parents proud, but they face enormous obstacles and people just as determined to keep them from achieving their goals.
No, they are not the young immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands, so much in the news these days. They are the 14-year-old boys from all over the globe gathering here in Washington for the Pony League World Series, which opens tonight at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park.
The series begins at 5:30 p.m., when Corpus Christi, Texas, plays Levittown, Puerto Rico. Bay City, Mich., faces Host Area winner Johnstown in the 8 p.m. game.
Others competing in the 10-team, double-elimination tournament are from Mexico, Chinese Taipei, the Czech Republic, Hawaii, Virginia and our own host team, the Washington All-Stars.
The local team will play the boys from Prague in the middle game of Sunday’s tripleheader at 2 p.m.
Pony League baseball was born in Washington in 1951.
The first world series was played at Washington High School’s field in 1952 and moved to Pony League Field the following year, where it has been every year since then. The history of youth baseball here is long and rich, and it is something of which Western Pennsylvanians should be proud.
Maintaining the tradition has not been easy, however.
The costs for both the hosts and the competitors who travel here are considerable and made more difficult by a troubled economy.
The Marcellus gas boom has resulted in a greater demand for hotel rooms, making finding them difficult for the players, their coaches and families traveling with them.
And then there are all the other forms of entertainment that compete with the series. Dwindling attendance at the games in recent years has made a possibility of the unthinkable: the loss of the Pony League World Series to another city.
Crowds are always large when host Washington and the winner of the Host Area are playing. But when those teams have been eliminated, the bleachers have emptied, leaving, in many cases, boys striving for a world championship thousands of miles from home playing before embarrassingly sparse crowds.
The Pony League World Series belongs in Washington, and its citizens can ensure that it stays here with their support. That means coming out to the park to watch the games, and not just those in which the local team plays.
And it is just as important for all of us to be aware that we have visitors from around the world and to go out of our way in extending hospitality.