Friday, August 27, 2004

Preston Paint Co.
From town of 600, Preston, Md.’s fans made plenty of noise in South Williamsport

By Mike Lipka

Over the final few days in South Williamsport, don’t be surprised if you notice a void in Lamade Stadium and around the complex.

You won’t be seeing any more red.

When the South Caroline Little Leaguers from Preston, Md. were eliminated in a United States semifinal by a rock-solid Thousand Oaks, Calif. team, it was clear that the Mid-Atlantic Champs weren’t the best team at the Little League World Series this week.

But they certainly had the biggest group of fans.

‘We have a lot of support back home, but to be honest, they’ve even exceeded my expectations for the number of people that are driving, going home, driving back,” said Maryland manager Curtis Payne. “The number of people we’re putting in the stands, and the class act they are – they are the loudest group of fans here, but it was done with total class, with total good sportsmanship for both teams.”

Sure, you could say it’s unfair – at 250 miles away, Preston is the closest site to South Williamsport out of all the 16 World Series teams. But coming from a town of 600 people (and a Little League district of just 1,900 people from southern Caroline County), the turnout was beyond impressive.

“The first day they said 750 people were here. That’s buses and carloads,” Payne said. “I don’t know that we matched that first day, but we were packing the stands the whole time.

“Either somebody in the town was here or was watching the game on TV,” he added. “I bet there’s not a person in Caroline County that didn’t see us play.”

There wasn’t a person at Lamade Stadium Thursday that didn’t see the sea of red paint along the first-base line. During one of Preston’s pool play games, a group of Maryland fans spelled out “Let’s go Maryland” with red paint on their bare chests, and in their squad’s final game Thursday night, the group managed to make “Preston.”

Preston residents Steve Hudson and Dave Wilson, both 18, claim the painting was their idea, and Thursday night, they didn’t bother with letters – they were completely painted from the waist up, forehead to fingers.

“They wanted to have some fun with it, and they knew anything they could do to create some excitement and get the kids pumped up,” Payne said. “It looks silly on TV maybe, but I think things like that are what keep the kids motivated.”

“It’s just the hype of the games. It just gets [the team] worked up,” Hudson said. “We were on this team when we were smaller. We just want to support them.”

After getting about 15 fans to paint during the pool play game, close to that number were coated in red Thursday, as in addition to the “Preston,” there was almost a row of just red.

“We had 16 oz tubes,” said Wilson, whose cousin Ryan Hood was on the team. “We probably went through six or seven.”“At least,” Hudson laughed.

The duo was part of a contingent that rode a roller coaster of emotions this week, from the team’s victory in its opener over vaunted Owensboro, Ky. ace Cole Sturgeon, to a 13-1 drubbing at the hands of Richmond, Texas.

After that game, Hudson and Wilson got in the car and headed home, figuring their team was eliminated with its 1-2 record. But when Kentucky beat Redmond, Wash., Maryland won the three-way tiebreaker for second place in Pool B by virtue of run differential.

“We were riding home from the game we played before when we lost,” Hudson said.

“I had my dad on the phone giving us the play-by-play,” Wilson said.

What they heard was Washington slugger Colin Porter belting a home run with two outs in the sixth to provide the difference that Maryland needed to advance. So Wilson and Hudson got home, turned around, and drove the five hours back to South Williamsport.

And Thursday night, they turned around and drove home one final time – with a little less paint, but no less pride.

“I think coming from a town of 600 people and picking from two teams, we didn’t do bad at all,” Hudson said. “We had 36 kids to pick from. It’s unbelievable.”

“Even though we only won one game, we made it to the [U.S.] semis,” Payne said. “And we played a great, great California team as tough as anybody in this tournament has played them so far.”

The rest of the crowd in Williamsport this week won’t forget it – thanks to a little help from a proud community and a few bottles of paint.

© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated