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Little League World Series: The Compelling Backstory

24 Aug, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
There’s More to the Elite Youth Event than What’s Seen on the Field

The Little League World Series, a juggernaut among youth sports events, is underway in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And as Little League Baseball continues to put time and distance between itself and last year’s public relations nightmare concerning Jackie Robinson West, the organization is moving ahead and concentrating on the more compelling stories about the LLWS, as well as Little League itself.

While it’s easy to follow the action online, the following facts may just round out your understanding of the event and what makes it so intriguing.

The Venues: All games of the Little League Baseball World Series are played in two stadiums at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport. (The Series moved from Memorial Park in Williamsport in 1959.): Little League Volunteer Stadium (opened in 2001), which can accommodate about 5,000 fans, is used for some of the early-round games. Howard J. Lamade Stadium seats about 9,000 in the stadium-proper, with room for another 30,000 to 35,000 on the terraced hills beyond the outfield fence. Lamade Stadium is used for some early-round games and is used exclusively for the second-half of the Series (once single-elimination begins) because of its large capacity.

Attendance: The highest estimated attendance for a Little League World Series game was in 1989, when Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, lost to Taiwan, in the final game before about 45,000 people (“about” because admission is free; hence, the stadiums do not have turnstiles.) In 2006, 315,798 people watched all 31 LLWS games in person.

Little League Inclusivity: It’s nothing new. Little League Baseball has always been integrated by race. Major League Baseball did not become integrated (in its modern era) until 1947.

Rio’s Little League: Yes, you read that. It’s a story that concerns sports in Rio and it seems to be heading for a happy ending. Little League is on the rise in Brazil. And while baseball is far from a new pastime in South America, it’s often eclipsed by the soccer scene. In fact, according to the LLB website, when the Tampa Bay Rays went down to Brazil to investigate the country’s young talent, Dan Velte, Little League Senior Director of League Development and Regional, went with them.

Like many MLB teams, the Rays were looking for the next baseball star. While other countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela produce much of the league’s international prospects, Velte said that the Rays saw a unique opportunity in Brazil.

“They saw it as an untapped market,” said Mr. Velte. “They didn’t have as big of a budget as other teams so they had to look in different places.”  In the six years since, Velte said that the progress made in Brazil has been remarkable.

“It’s gone from being barely above Tee Ball level to having legitimate Little League programs,” said Mr. Velte.

Girls (and Women) Have Always Been Ahead of the Game: Girls were first allowed by rule to play Little League Baseball in 1974 but given its inclusivity, leave it to this game to be ahead of the curve, since the first girl to actually play Little League did so in 1950 in Corning, N.Y. – Kathryn “Tubby” Johnston. To date, 12 girls have played in the Little League World Series. The first, Victoria Roche, was in 1984. She played for the team that represented Brussels (Belgium) Little League. One woman has coached a team in the Little League World Series: Kathy Barnard, Lynn Valley Little League, North Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1993. Betty Speziale of Dunkirk, N.Y., was the first woman to umpire in the Little League World Series, in 1989. In 2002, Flora Stansberry of Seneca, Mo., became the first woman to umpire behind the plate in the Little League Baseball World Series Championship Game.

The Numbers: In the Little League Baseball International Tournament, approximately 16,000 games are played in dozens of countries in 45 days, culminating in the 16-team Little League Baseball World Series each August. There are more games played in this 45-day tournament than in six full seasons of Major League Baseball. (And these are kids. Who don’t get paid for their games. Think about that. Take as long as you need.)

Out-of-Pocket: Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There is no fee of any kind for any team in the Little League Baseball World Series. Neither the parents nor the local league are asked to pay anything for the team’s expenses. All of the expenses for all teams, including travel, are paid by Little League International and teams are housed in dormitories on the Little League campus, with food provided at no charge. Additionally, every league with a team that wins its district level championship and advances to the next level, receives a reimbursement from Little League Baseball of $1 per mile for one round trip to each tournament site, to help offset travel expenses. (Usually a district comprises a town, county, or several towns or counties.) Little League pays this because every league pays a one-time entry fee of $75 for each team entered in the International Tournament, in order to offset tournament expenses.

Let’s See That Again: In 2016, Little League expanded video replay to all its regional tournaments. Instant replay was originally implemented in 2008 at the Little League Baseball World Series for the first time by any baseball organization.

Play ball…

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