10 Reasons Why We Love Little League Baseball!

Photo and Artcle from Parade.com

It’s played on fields of grass and dirt and artificial turf, next to San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge (Fort Scott Field), beneath the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan (Battery Park City Ball Field), and in small replicas of big-league stadiums (Little Cubs Field in Freeport, Illinois). What they all have in common: A pitcher’s mound exactly 46 feet from home plate, a distance of 60 feet between bases, a game that’s only six innings long, and millions of kids, parents, coaches, fans and volunteers who love the game of baseball, especially Little League Baseball.

With 2.4 million players in 80 countries (1.8 million in the U.S. alone), Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world. In 2019, more than 3 million people watched the final game of the Little League World Series on ABC—a viewership that surpassed that of every pro or college baseball game last year (except the MLB All-Star game and the Home Run Derby). The mass appeal of Little League Baseball is “greater than any other sport we consume,” says ESPN commentator Karl Ravech, who has done commentary for the LLWS since 2006. “The kids are having fun playing it and we’re having fun broadcasting it and it’s hard not to have fun watching it.”

As the coronavirus has led to silent fields and empty bleachers across the U.S., we all look ahead to the day we can return to doing what we love. So we asked coaches, players, parents and baseball fans to tell us why Little League baseball makes their—and our—hearts soar. Here are 10 reasons why we love Little League.

 

Little League Baseball Is Fun

“A lot of pro players will tell you the most enjoyable moments they ever had were the times when they were playing not for the name on the back of the uniform but with their friends,” says ESPN’s Ravech, who played Little League as a kid in Needham, Massachusetts, and who remembers ice cream and impromptu games of Frisbee and pickle with teammates after games as some of his best moments.

“It was probably the most fun I had playing baseball,” Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger told the Los Angeles Times last year. This from a guy who’s been Rookie of the Year (2017), National League MVP (2019) and an All-Star since moving up to the majors in 2017.

Elizabeth, New Jersey’s Elmora Troopers, 2019 Mid-Atlantic champs, literally shook with happiness during their games, starting a dance—the “Jersey Shake”—so joyfully contagious that even major league players started doing it.

 

Little League Highlights Fundamental Skills

Little League is first and foremost an instructional league, says Hugh Tanner, chairman of the Little League International Board of Directors, who coached daughter Paxton and son Alec on teams with West University Little League in Houston. From rookies (ages 7–8) through the majors (ages 11–12), “we teach footwork, how to properly get in front of a baseball, all the fundamentals of the game,” says Jairo Labrador, a P.E. teacher who’s coached Little League at every level, including the Elmora Troopers. Labrador’s All-Star team typically practices two hours a day, including an hour of hitting, 30 minutes of fielding, and 30 minutes on “situations,” like whether to throw to second to prevent a stolen base when there are runners on first and third and fewer than two outs. Basic skills learned on the field often translate into real life: “The ‘situational awareness’ that the best Little League coaches teach their players led our son Tyler to become a catcher [the on-field ‘General’], then a youth umpire and now a police officer—a job that requires the blend of focused intensity and even temperament that baseball teaches,” says Phil Duncan, a city council member from Falls Church, Virginia.

Little League Stays With You

The friendships, the mentors (hey, coach!), the victories, the losses—they’re memories with intense staying power for every Little Leaguer. Hugh Tanner is in his 50s but still remembers his first coach, in Moss Point, Mississippi, a pipe-fitter named George Washington. “He made it such a positive learning experience I can see him and the field and my teammates in my mind right now.” Karl Ravech recalls that he didn’t make the Little League major league team at age 11, even while many of his buddies did. Yet, “I ended up having the most positive experience because I had the greatest coach, Tim Halloran. His name stands out even now. I’ll never forget the impact he had on me and the joy I ended up having even when I was disappointed at not making that team.”

Little League Fills All the Senses

The sights, sounds, smells, and sensory experiences of playing Little League last a lifetime too. “I loved being outside under the lights in the summertime,” says author Therese Anne Fowler, who played second base and catcher for the Yankees in Milan, Illinois, in 1976, two years after Little League opened to girl players. She was 9. “Just being out there on that freshly cut green with the lights on and the warm summertime breezes… Our old diamond was built into the edge of a cornfield, so when there was a breeze you could hear the rustling sound of the corn.” Fowler even remembers the uniforms: yellow uniforms with green numbers and white pants and stirrup socks. “I loved those stirrup socks.”

For Derek Escobar, 13, who played for the Elmora Troopers last year, “one of my favorite sounds is the crack of the bat when you get a hit, and another is the pop of the glove when a really hard throw comes to you. If I’m having a bad day and that happens at practice, that sound will turn my day around.”

Fundamental Values Matter

“There’s a huge emphasis on good sportsmanship, consideration, respect,” Ravech says. “You don’t see a ton of bat-flipping or kicking the dirt in Little League.” Maya Zimmerman, now 20 and a junior at Swarthmore College, says her most vivid memory of Little League came during a game when she was 10 or 11 and pitching against a friend, a kid whose family was like extended family to her own. “He hit a home run off me, and as he rounded third base I ran over to give him a high five. He was a good friend, and he hit a home run!” She was surprised when her coaches awarded her with a good sportsmanship award later that season. “We were all there playing a game we all love,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Little League Teaches Life Lessons

The ball takes a bad hop, you strike out, you miss that throw to first—failure is part of the game in baseball and especially in Little League, where players are 10 and 11 and 12 years old. Players learn that everyone makes mistakes. And more: Therese Fowler, a self-described persistent person, learned the value of “patient persistence” playing Little League. “The mistakes of the second inning can be rectified in the sixth inning,” she says. Learning to take things in stride, being a team player and accepting that things aren’t always fair are also crucial lessons baseball teaches. “My coaches always said the best players are the one with the shortest memories,” Zimmerman says. “That’s stuck with me, that if something goes wrong, you assess what happened, move forward, but don’t hold on to it too strongly. That can also apply to work or school or whatever.” “We learned to help each other up; when someone’s down, you should help your teammate up,” says Jayden Capindica, 13, of the Elmora Troopers. 

Little League Builds Lasting Friendships

“That’s what it’s all about,” says Jairo Labrador, the Elmora Troopers coach. “From T-ball all the way up to the World Series, it’s laughing in the dugout and sunflower seeds and walking onto the field with your team in the early morning dew for practice.” Mo’ne Davis, 18, was the first American girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series (LLWS), throwing a two-hitter and striking out eight to lead her Taney Dragons (Philadelphia) to a 4-0 win against Nashville in 2014. She landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the first active Little Leaguer ever to do so. Her best moment that season? Hanging out at “The Grove,” the dormitory village in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where World Series athletes and coaches stay, and “playing dodge ball with little squishy baseballs. We split up into teams, USA versus the world, then we stayed up late and had a dance party.”

Little League Fans/Community Are the Best

Whether you’re seven or 47, “Little League really does bring everyone together in a community,” says Tanner. “Every kid on the teams plays, and everybody volunteers. It might be your week to work in the Snack Shack or wash down the stands or be team parent. I have a lifetime of friends that grew out of working with my children and their friends’ parents in Little League.” When the Elmora Troopers clinched a berth in the LLWS, seven busloads of fans made the trip from New Jersey to Pennsylvania for opening night. “Elizabeth, New Jersey, is immigrants, it’s hardworking police officers, teachers, firefighters. They were there living it with us,” Labrador says.

Little League Is Inclusive

Little League admitted girls in 1974 (35 years after its inception in 1939) and has included a “Challenger Division” for kids with physical or intellectual challenges since 1989. Little League rules mandate that every player on a team gets playing time, and every player spends time pitching as well as playing a field position. When Mo’ne Davis played in the 2014 World Series, she was one of just two girls playing LL baseball in Williamsport that year (and one of just 19 girls to play in the LLWS since 1974). “All the teams were very supportive of us,” she says. “They would always check in to see how we were doing. No one was hating on us while we were there.”

Little League Is Competitive

Teams competing to make it to the Little League World Series have to win to advance. “If we don’t win, the season’s over,” says Scott Frazier, coach of the 2019 World Series champs Eastbank (Louisiana). “Starting at age 7 or 8, you have to win the championship to get a trophy. That’s reality.”

The Downside of Little League

While it’s easy to view Little League through the golden-tinged haze of sweet summer days, it’s not for everybody. For some, it’s memorably awful. “I was not an athletic youth,” recalls Will Hahn, a freelance audiobook narrator in Newark, Delaware, who played one year for his local team in Jericho, Vermont. “The coach tried me out at catcher once and I’ve never been so terrified. I was essentially a bench guy.”

Parents can be too intense

Cheryl McMillen, a budget director with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coached her son’s team and served as president of her local league in Falls Church, Virginia. She recalls deciding to cancel a game on a sizzling summer day when temps hovered near 100. “This dad came up to me and screamed at me for not letting the kids play and completely lost control. He apologized later, but that kind of thing happened more often than you would like it to happen, because people get overly emotional about their kids.”

David Kazzie, a novelist and lawyer, played four years for the Naval Base Little League in Norfolk, Virginia, including a year spent on “possibly the worst team in Little League history. We lost all 19 games, all but one by double digits and most by 15 to 20 runs or more. We went through three coaches, including one who vanished midseason without a trace. In our only close game, our coach promised to buy us each a pizza if we won. We lost that one too, 7-6.” In retrospect, Kazzie says, “we were magnificent in our awfulness!”

 

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