Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Ultimate Blog for Youth Sports

Williamsport is a little Pennsylvania town on the Susquehanna River that history would have forgotten if a man named Carl Stotz didn't scratch himself on a lilac bush almost seven decades ago.

Stotz was playing catch with his nephews on Isabella Street, a few blocks from historic Bowman Field, when a ball got away. He gave chase but scratched his leg and needed to sit down a few minutes to nurse his injury. And then, like a thunderbolt, he had an inspiration that led to the creation of Little League baseball the following year.

And growing up in America has never been the same.

From a league of three teams in 1939, Little League has grown into a global enterprise that has occupied the lives of some 40 million boys and girls across the U.S. and more than a hundred other nations.

And now the all-star teams from 7,000 American Little League organizations, and hundreds more from overseas, are beginning the long march to the most famous kids tournament anywhere -- the Little League World Series.

Memories of Little League

Most everyone in the U.S. has some kind of Little League memory. For me, it was keeping company with the dandelions in deep right field in Muscatine, Iowa. It was in the scruffy little town on the Mississippi River where I started playing Little League at the age of 9. At first, I hated baseball. My parents had to force me to go to practices and games. But around the midpoint of the season, something clicked. Baseball became my game. Even though I was never much good as a player, I've always loved playing and watching.
Every year, thanks for a multi-million-dollar broadcasting contract with the Disney Company, the memories of Little League return to millions of living rooms around the world. Starting with eight regional tournaments in the U.S., and continuing through a 16-team international Little League World Series in Williamsport, ESPN and ABC televise more three dozen Little League games.

It's more than a little strange that a major media empire would televise the games of a bunch of 11- and 12-year-old kids. The kids playing in the Little League World Series are gifted young athletes. But they are still just prepubescent kids who have not developed physically. You'd think older kids -- like high school players or college players -- would get more attention. But ESPN and ABC serve up three weeks of kidball, and get ratings on par with some major-league and NHL games.

Little Leaguers playing in Williamsport are not even the best of their age bracket. The best pre-teen players compete on travel teams in tournaments across the country all summer. The true stars of the fuzzy-faced set play at tournaments like Cooperstown Dreams Park and the Elite World Series at Disney World in Orlando.

Last summer, intrigued by the oddity of the Little League World Series, I decided to explore the world of youth baseball in the U.S. I thought the long summer of baseball would reveal something important not only about the evolution of youth sports, but also about the state of childhood in America. The result is a book to be published in July by Sourcebooks called Little League, Big Dreams.

This blog

Over the next several weeks, as teams compete in qualifying tournaments for the right to play in the Little League World Series, I'll write a daily blog about the phenomenon of the event. And when the LLWS kicks from August 18 to 27, I'll talk about the games and the festival atmosphere in Williamsport.

It's only a game, but like other phenomena that "don't really matter," I think the Little League World Series does say something about American culture.

Reader participation

I invite readers to contribute their comments along the way. Talk about whatever topics grab you -- players and coaches, parents, TV, how kids train, the "professionalization of childhood," the corporate presence, the quality of play, memories of your own experiences as a player or parent. You name it, we'll talk about it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Patrick said...

My wife and I visited Williamsport for the first time in July. she could not understand my desire to go and see a Little League field. After the museum tour, we walked over to the stadium, and she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the area.
As a 11 and 12 year old in the 70s, my life was consumed with the thought of going to Williamsport. The only game that ABC televised was the final championship game, Lamade Stadium just appeared on the TV set on a Saturday in August, right before school started.
We also visited the original Little League field, and discovered that it is not affiliated with Little League, it plays independent of them.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Charlie Euchner said...

Thanks, belatedly, for your comments. The Little League World Series has certainly become a touchstone for all kinds of people, not just in the U.S. but across the world. The Original Little League was created by Little League's founder Carl Stotz after the corporate brass that took over Little League forced him out. For more information, see my book "Little League, Big Dreams."

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been ages since i posted here. Been sick, busy etc. There are not many games left this season. It has had it's up's and down's. Meet some new Reds i adore. Meet David Ross again. Knew of him when was a Dodger. Missed Sean Casey a lot. Reds then got rid of Austin Kerns. Seen the Reds 9 times this year at Busch Stadium. Saw the Phillies 3 times. Seen The Astros 3 times. Gonna see the Astros for my 4th time September 13th. Gonna go to games in 2 weeks to see Brian Giles.No idea who will make the playoffs.First Choice Reds. Second Choice Phillies. 3RD Astros. 4TH Choice Padres. Padres just because of Brian Giles, Geoff Blum and Trevor Hoffmann. I hope to at least attend one playoff game. But if the Cards don't make it won't go to any. Because i can't afford to travel. But if i had to choose. I'd rather the Reds win the Central and just have to watch them on tv.Seeing them on tv would be better than them not making the playoffs at all.
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11:25 AM  

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