Many of the world's best players throwing and knocking the old horsehide around began their careers playing through the youth systems.
There's the PONY League, Cal Ripken, Babe Ruth, and American Legion, among others.
But then there is the biggest of them all—Little League.
Since 1947, the Little League World Series has been held in the city of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Teams from the USA, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe contest for the honor of the best Little League All-Star team in the world.
This preview will give you a little look at the main protagonists in a pint-sized late summer classic you don't want to miss.
Tournament Dates: July 3 and July 10
Edogawa Minami Little League
Japan has been a successful force in Little League baseball, having won it all six times. Japan usually participates in the Little League Division only, as its players prepare for the knock-down, drag-out world of high school baseball
The last time Japan hoisted a banner was in 2003, when Tokyo's Musasi-Fuchu Little League dominated East Boynton Beach 10-1.
Edogawa Minami Little League, which defeated Aomori Hirosaki of Aomori City 8-4, last participated in this tournament in 2008. They will hope to improve on their semifinal finish, where they fell to eventual runners-up, Matamoros, Mexico.
Other notable Tokyo Little League clubs include Musashi Fuchu, Tokyo Kitasuna, and Tokyo Nakano.
Tournament Dates: July 3 - 10
Humacao, Puerto Rico
Jose M Rodriguez LL
Manati, Puerto Rico
While the Caribbean region has been known for having solid players hail from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands Antilles, Pabao of Willemstad had raised the only banner from the region, and that was in 2004.
This year, Willemstad was bested by Jose M. Rodriguez Little League, a club from Manati, Puerto Rico. Their 8-2 victory broke a nine-year streak of the Netherlands Antilles representing the region.
Indeed, it has been a long time coming. The last time Puerto Rico competed in Williamsport was in 1999, when Yabucoa's Juan A. Biblioni LL represented the Latin America region. They would be eliminated in the semifinals by eventual champions Hirakata Little League of Osaka, Japan.
Tournament Dates: July 10-15
Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei
The United States has won the most Little League titles with 32. However, if you divide the states apart and compare it with Chinese Taipei, the Taiwanese have nearly three times as many as California (the state with the most championships on the American front) with 17. California only has six.
The 1970s have been Chinese Taipei's greatest decade, with seven titles between 1971 and 1979. Kaohsiung was the last Taiwanese winner, having won in 1996.
Fu-Hsing Elementary School's Little League side dominated all their opponents in the Asia-Pacific Tournament and shut out ILLAM Central Little League of Makati City, Philippines 10-0 to punch their ticket to Williamsport.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
Tournament Dates: July 21-24
Arabian American LL
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
The Middle East and Africa is the weakest region in the Little League universe because the same team qualifies year-in, year-out.
In fact, the tournament might as well be named the Dhahran Invitational because the Arabian American Little League, composed of the sons of expatriates that work in the Saudi Aramco Residential Camp, continues to represent the MEA region (formerly Transatlantic). They have also represented Europe in their 22 years of competing at the Little League World Series.
Dhahran annihilated Kuwait City 12-0 to punch their ticket to Williamsport. Not much is expected from this side, as they have never won this tournament.
Tournament Dates: July 20-29
Oriente Little League
Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas
Mexico is a hotbed for baseball, and its Little League sides have won three Little League World Series titles. Guadalupe, Nuevo Laredo's Linda Vista LL won the last title for Mexico in 1997.
Mexico came close to winning their fourth in 2008 but were silenced by Waipi'o Little League of Waipahu, Hawaii.
Oriente had to battle back from elimination by beating Satelite Little League of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, twice with the second game going seven innings. Oriente punched their ticket with a 3-1 victory.
Tournament Dates: July 25-31
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Chitre Little League
The only team from the Latin American region to have won a Little League World Series ring has been Maracaibo's Sierra Maestra Little League in 2000.
However, Venezuela will not be representing the region this year.
Panama's best finish at a Little League World Series was runner-up, when David Doleguita Little League of David, Panama, lost 3-2 to Long Beach, California.
Their entry this year is Chitre Little League, who steamrolled through their competition with a 8-2 annihilation of Falcon Little League of Cartagena, Colombia.
Tournament Dates: July 21-24
Kaiserslautern Military Community
American Little League
Ramstein Air Base
KMC American makes their second straight appearance at the Little League World Series but were tested by Kirovograd, Ukraine.
Needless to say, they picked themselves up with a key victory against South Moravia, Czech Republic, before shutting out Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy 4-0.
Among the players to watch out for from KMC American include pitcher Daniel Harrington, center fielder Stanford Hurley, and shortstop Pierce Tujo. They are a part of an arsenal of weapons that look to give Germany its first-ever Little League World Series ring.
Tournament Dates: August 7-14
Little Mountain LL
Vancouver, British Columbia
Aptly-named Little Mountain Little League will represent Canada in Williamsport. The question is: Will this be the year Canada finally bests its rivals from Latin American and Asia?
British Columbia is notorious for fielding strong teams, yet it is unable to measure up against its international competition at Lamade and Volunteer.
Little Mountain will be the sixth straight team from BC that will be representing the Great White North and are led by pitcher/catcher Matt Reyes, pitcher/shortstop Lichel Hirakawa-Kaoand, and pitcher/third baseman Kristofer De Guzman.
Hirakawa-Kao scored two home runs in their win over the hosts, while DeGuzman added another. De Guzman also ended his tournament with a .632 batting average in the final.
Reyes is another slugger from Little Mountain, dishing out big hits while finishing the tournament with a .609 batting average in the championship game.
Lucas Soper is a pitcher that will be tested by the competition in Pennsylvania. He struck out seven for a 0.58 ERA at the Canadian Qualifying Tournament in Ancaster.
Overall Little Mountain brought out the big bats against their Canadian foes, averaging 12.7 runs per game. But will the power carry over to the Little League World Series, or will those British Columbia bats ring silent?
Tournament Dates: August 6-14
West Side LL
Hamilton West Side Little League will be representing the Great Lakes Region. The last time a team from the region won the Little League World Series was in 2002, where Louisville, Kentucky's Valley Sports American LL shut out Sendai Hagashi LL of Sendai, Japan, 1-0.
West Side finished group play with a 3-1 record, with their only defeat against Terre Haute North LL of Terre Haute, Indiana. They would avenge their defeat in the semis before shutting out Moline National LL of Moline, Illinois, 4-0 to punch their ticket.
This team is led by shortstop Landon Stephens, center fielder/pitcher Cole Heflin, first/third baseman/pitcher Jarod Morrison, and second baseman/pitcher Ryan Robinson.
Stephens dished out seven hits at the Great Lakes tournament, while Heflin sent four over the wall at Indy. Heflin also dished out 11 strikeouts in the final against Moline National and recorded nine RBI the entire tournament.
Robinson is a major contributor with five RBI. Morrison is another scoring threat with four home runs to his name, hitting .471 in the championship game.
Tournament Dates: August 6-14
Plymouth/New Hope LL
The Midwest region is not one of the strongest regions in the States, but it has a competent club from the region in Plymouth/New Hope Little League.
They are the sixth team from Minnesota to represent the Midwest. The last team to represent Minnesota was Coon Rapids in 2007.
Plymouth's high-powered offense is led by shortstop Josh Thorp, first baseman/pitcher Talor Blustin, and second baseman/left fielder/right fielder Mitchell Verbeten.
Four of Thorp's nine hits came in a 15-2 blowout victory for Plymouth over Daniel Boone American LL of Columbia, Missouri. Blustin recorded 11 RBI in the Midwest tournament to go with four home runs and a .611 batting average. Verbeten is a reliable offensive threat with 12 hits to his credit and has slugged his way in the championship game to a .600 batting average.
Watch for the arms of Blustin and Nick Tuel to play a key role in the hopes of Plymouth/New Hope, who qualified with an 8-3 victory over Canyon Lake LL of Rapid City, South Dakota.
Tournament Dates: August 7-13
Warner Robins, Georgia
Columbus Northern LL
Georgia is no stranger to winning the Little World Series, with East Marietta National of Marietta winning it in 1983 and Warner Robins hoisting the hardware for the Empire State of the South in 2007.
However Columbus Northern won it all the year before Warner Robins did, and here they are looking for their second ring after rallying to defeat Viera/Suntree LL of Melbourne, Florida 9-2.
This year's Columbus Northern side is led by catcher Blake Hicks, shortstop Brandon Pugh and right fielder Troy Gilliland. Hicks racked up eight hits in the tournament and is the team's leading offensive weapon.
However, Columbus's strength lies in its pitching. On the mound, watch out for Jacob Pate. A complete game to go with eight strikeouts against Melbourne makes him one of the most dangerous flame-throwers in the field.
Tournament Dates: August 6-12
Pearland White LL
The last time a Texas team won the Little League World Series was in 1966, when Houston's Westbury American LL defeated West New York, New Jersey, 8-2. The last time a Texas team made the Championship Game was in 2000, when Bellaire fell 3-2 to Sierra Maestra Little League of Maracaibo.
Pearland White defeated Eagle Pass American LL of Eagle Pass 5-3 to qualify for the trip to Williamsport.
Beau Orlando and Jorge Gutierrez form a potent pitching combination that will be key to Pearland's progress. In the final against Eagle Pass, Orlando struck out seven in earning his second win of the tournament.
As for the offense, Orlando has proven to be a one-man dual threat. Not only can he pitch, but he can dish out hit after hit after hit.
In fact, he will be a slugger fans will need to keep an eye on. At the Southwest Regionals, Orlando chalked up 12 hits to go with 10 RBI and a .605 batting average.
Tournament Dates: August 6-15
San Bernardino, California
The state of Washington has won this tournament before, but that was in 1982, when Kirkland National Little League shutout Puzih LL of Chiayi City, Chinese Taipei, 6-0.
Auburn Little League of Auburn, Washington, is hoping that the drought will end this year. Averaging just over 12 runs a game in the Northwest Regionals, they bring one of the strongest offensive attacks to Williamsport.
Among the weapons in Auburn's youthful arsenal is first baseman/pitcher Casey Manning.
Manning recorded 14 RBI in the tournament, including three during the 13-3 rout of North Boise LL of Boise, Idaho, in the Northwest Championship Game. He finished the tournament with a blistering .526 battering average on Sunday.
Other key players to keep an eye on include catcher/shortstop Ikaika Nahaku, pitcher/shortstop Isaiah Hatch, and right fielder Dillon O'Grady.
Manning is also Auburn's star pitcher, with a 3-0 record to his credit at the Northwest Regionals. Watch for the tandem of Manning and O'Grady to spice things up from the mound.
Tournament Dates: August 6-15
San Bernardino, California
Waipi'o makes a return appearance to the Little League World Series. They won their first World Series ring in 2008, where they destroyed Matamoros, Mexico, 12-3.
Hawai'i won their first-ever Little League World Series with a 7-6 victory by Ewa Beach in seven innings over Pabao of Willemstad, Curaçao.
Waipi'o avenged their 2-1 defeat to Ocean View Little League of Huntington Beach, CA, in group play with a 4-1 victory in the championship game.
What Waipi'o lacks in offense they make up for with pitching and good fielding. Noah Shackles is a gunslinger oppositions do not want to mess with. Along with Dane Kaneshiro, Shackles' pitching ability will be crucial to Waipi'o chances of earning their season LLWS ring.
The trio of Ty DeSa, Kaimana Bartolome, and Shiloh Baniaga will look to provide the offensive fireworks that Waipi'o needs to succeed in Williamsport.
Tournament Dates: August 6-14
Fairfield American LL
Connecticut has had their share of success winning the Little League World Series, with championships in 1951, 1952, 1965, and 1989.
Fairfield American will look to end a 21-year drought through clutch players like pitcher Nick Nardone and third baseman/shortstop Tommy Ryan.
Ryan was instrumental in Fairfield avenging their 2-0 defeat in group play to Cumberland National LL of Cumberland, Rhode Island. He drove in a deciding home run in the third inning of their 1-0 championship game victory.
Nardone struck out nine in the win, and the speed on his pitches will challenge the opposing batters he will face at Lamade and Volunteer.
Other key players from Fairfield to watch out for include center fielder Chris Howell and first baseman/pitcher Jack Quinn. Howell recorded six RBI on seven hits in the tournament and a .421 batting average in the final, while Quinn added four RBI.
Tournament Dates: August 6-16
Toms River National LL
Toms River, New Jersey
Traditionally, the Mid-Atlantic Region has been one of the strongest in the competition, with New Jersey and Pennsylvania winning four championships and New York winning two.
Hammonton, N.J., won the Garden State's first Little League World Series title in 1949. American Little League of Wayne, N.J., won the LLWS in 1970 and Lakewood broke a four-game winning streak by Chinese Taipei in 1975.
Toms River, New Jersey, has been there and won that, with Toms River East hoisting their Little League World Series banner in 1998.
This year, it's Toms River National Little League that will step up to the plate at Lamade and Volunteer.
Center fielder Kevin Blum and third baseman/pitcher Joey Rose form an powerful driving force for this bunch of Jersey kids.
Blum is one of the best leadoff hitters entering the tournament with 10 hits and 12 RBI.
Rose has chalked up seven hits and 10 RBI, with four of those in the regional semifinal against Stony Point LL of Stony Point, New York.
Rose is also Toms River National's pitching ace and will be one to keep a close eye on the mound for.