Every August, fans from across the globe converge on South Williamsport as 16 Little League Baseball teams compete to become the champion. Friends, family and baseball fans alike pack the stands at Lamade and Volunteer stadiums to cheer on the players and coaches.
But for one family, experiencing the games as just fans is a new experience. The Mendiola family was back at Volunteer Stadium Thursday a year after their son, Jared, was a member of the team from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, which represented the Europe Region in the 2012 World Series.
Jared Mendiola, proudly wearing his No. 3 jersey from last year's Series run, along with brothers Jordan and Josh, and father John, watched the next crop of Little Leaguers compete. The family went back-and-forth between Volunteer and Lamade stadiums with no rooting interest this year, which is a welcome change for the elder Mendiola.
"For me, it's more fun. You just want to watch baseball," John Mendiola said. "You're not hoping that we can beat these guys (like last year)."
John Mendiola explained that during last year's Series, he couldn't simply enjoy the games since he constantly was looking at other teams as competition.
For Jared, the experience of sitting in the stands instead of being in the thick of the action was "really different."
Besides not being stressed by the games, the family also is able to relax since they're finally settled in their new home in Chicago, Ill. Although the family was living in Germany during the baseball season, it was getting set for the move to the Windy City as the team was preparing to come to South Williamsport last year.
"We moved to Chicago at the exact same time (the 2012 World Series preparation) was going on. Actually, we had to leave (Jared) in Europe to practice with the team," John recalled.
The family, minus mother Angeline who couldn't make the trip and serves in the U.S. Army, started their vacation Wednesday night at the ninth annual Grand Slam Parade. The Mendiolas will stay at the Series until Sunday, when they make the 11-hour car ride back to Chicago for the first day of school. Jordan was quick to point out that they plan to stay for every game during those days.
Knowing that not everyone is able to experience the Little League World Series from the inside, the Mendiolas are proud that they were a part of one of the teams and don't take it for granted.
"Only so many kids get to come through here," John said.
Since the family has lived in Washington state, Germany and now Chicago, they have ties to many of the teams in this year's Series. But they aren't sure who to root for.
"For me, I don't know who to root for," John said. "The Great Lakes Region is where we live now. We were from Washington so do we root for them? We played for Europe, so do we root for them?"
The elder Mendiola added that the family actually was hoping to see the Ramstein team, with many of Jared's former teammates still on it. The Czech Republic team, representing the Europe and Africa Region at this year's World Series, knocked the Ramstein team out of the regional tournament.
But instead of worrying, the Mendiolas are just enjoying their vacation.
"What we really like about it is it's all free," John said. "You can't go to too many places where the main attraction is free, parking is free."