The delegation representing Uganda, the first African team to play in the Little League World Series, consists of 14 people: 11 players and three coaches. No family members or friends could afford to make the 25-hour trip. But you'd never know it from the support the team received: By the end of its first game, a 9--3 loss to Panama, its souvenir T-shirts and pins were sold out.
It was clear from the start that the youths from Lugazi—none of whom have been playing for more than two years—were going to be the tournament's breakout stars. Before their first game they were splashed on the front page of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. The interest only grew from there. Autograph hounds were so prevalent that the team had to take an alternate route to the practice fields. If they used the main path, "the kids would never make it," says assistant coach Richard Stanley. (A part owner of the Double A Trenton Thunder, Stanley was in Uganda in 2002 on business when he was asked by a local official about starting a baseball program. "I have a hard time saying no," says Stanley, who has contributed more than $1.5 million of his own money.)
Lugazi was eliminated 12--0 by Mexico, but the players—who are used to playing on a soccer field—plan on taking advantage of the facilities in Williamsport for a while. They've been hitting the cages every morning at 6:30, and this week they'll play a consolation game and a handful of friendly games. They are disappointed not to have played better, but just making the trip qualifies as a victory. "What Uganda has accomplished by coming here," Stanley says, "I'm not sure they realize yet."
GENE J. PUSKAR/AP (UGANDAN TEAM)