SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- At a place where dreams are made on the baseball diamond, legend has it that some of the most fun is had on a Ping-Pong table.
The lines to use a table are long, the games are competitive yet always friendly, and the memories collected for 12- and 13-year-old ballplayers from all over the world are unforgettable.
One after another last weekend, 16 teams representing nine countries and four different continents trickled into South Williamsport, Pa., home of the 67th Little League World Series. There, they live together in a melting-pot residential complex called The Grove, where languages and culture mix.
For the nearly 200 players, perhaps the most communication is had at the Ping-Pong tables, three of which are in the center of The Grove's game room, flanked by arcade games, an air hockey table and a flat-screen TV with a couch facing it.
"This is kind of the hangout spot of all the kids," said Justin Dineen, an outfielder for Ottawa, Canada. "In the evenings before curfew, there's like 10 people for each table."
"There's a long waiting line," added Westport outfielder Tatin Llamas. "You probably have to wait 15 minutes just to get (to the table). It's better to come really early in the morning when nobody's there."
Llamas hasn't gotten a chance to play Ping-Pong in the morning because, after all, baseball still rules in South Williamsport. But for each of the teams -- eight from the United States and eight from the rest of the world -- global friendships are formed.
When the Nashville, Tenn., team's airline lost most of its luggage -- including baseball equipment -- the players from Perth Metro Little League in Australia loaned the Nashville players their gloves for practice. The two cities are nearly 11,000 miles apart, but for a week, they're friendly neighbors at a baseball haven.
"We have a lot of friends, and we're breaking down barriers easily," Australia manager Glen Tovey said.
Communication between the different cultures can be difficult because of the language barrier, but the players have found different ways to make it work. Some use hand gestures and others even resort to technology to comprehend the simplest phrases.
"Actually we try to use Google Translate, which helps," Westport shortstop Ricky Offenberg said. "But it's still tough just because they don't really know what we're trying to tell them."
In The Grove, teams from the U.S. and from abroad live in the same buildings to promote interaction. Westport shares a bathroom with the team from Brno, Czech Republic. A floor below, teams from Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei and Sammamish, Wash., have a similar arrangement.
Players also enjoy traditional American dining in The Grove together.
"There's a lot of education going back and forth," said Brian McClintock, director of media relations at the LLWS.
Some of the interaction occurs when players from two different teams -- and often two different countries -- trade team pins as a sign of sportsmanship. Llamas explained that at the start of the LLWS, players often pointed to each other's pin to trade, but he said it's gotten slightly easier to communicate.
Phrases are often kept simple -- "Hello" and "Good luck" are common -- but there's often still a learning process.
"I think they understand more English now," Llamas said. "We would say `good luck' to them before and they would just waive because they didn't understand."
Daniel Polo, an outfielder for Aguadulce Cabezera Little League in Panama, said that he'd try to speak with players from the Tokyo team and they'd say "Konichiwa" (ko-NEECH-ee-wah) -- "Hello" or "Good day" in Japanese. He'd hear it differently, though.
"Usually (we) will just say `Itchy Y' and with body language, we'll just try to find out what they're trying to say," Polo said.
Regardless of how many games they win, the players savor the experience at the LLWS. In the words of Dineen, they're "treated like kings," each receiving gift packages that include bats, shoes, batting gloves, shirts and more. For some players, that's more than anyone else in their hometown has.
"They are special items that no one (in Panama) has right now," Polo said. "They are special edition for the Series, and we're lucky to have them."
"I am grateful for everything I am receiving," said Polo's teammate, pitcher-outfielder Jean Mar Sanchez. "The things I have received are very useful."
Kuo-Chiang Lee, manager of Chinese Taipei, said that players have to share bats back home, so he's thankful for what his team's been given. Lee called the LLWS an "unforgettable memory."
"In Taiwan, there isn't any league or association to provide this opportunity to get those bats and uniforms, and all kinds of stuff," he said.
For 10 days, the youngsters from all over the globe become celebrities, with all the games shown on TV. But for some of the less fortunate, the simplest gifts can mean the most.
"How many of these kids get white baseballs to have practice with (back home)?" McClintock asked.
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