The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

June 7, 2014

Little League baseball turns 75

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Dick Hauser was an accidental Little Leaguer.

Sitting on the front porch of his Williamsport home 75 years ago, the 12-year-old was approached by a man who asked, “Can you play ball?” His name was Carl Stotz, and he was starting a youth baseball league that would supply bats, balls and uniforms — unimaginable luxuries in Depression-era Pennsylvania.

After watching Hauser shag flies and field grounders, Stotz invited him to join.

“When you’re presented the opportunity to swing a real bat instead of a stick, and play with a real ball instead of something round that had tape on it, it was awesome,” Hauser, now 87, reminisced as he watched his great-grandson — a fourth-generation ballplayer — take the field not far from Little League’s birthplace.

Little League began with three teams and Stotz’s big dream: to teach boys the fundamentals of baseball along with values like teamwork and sportsmanship.

Today it’s a global enterprise with 2.1 million baseball players and a long-running TV contract for its signature event, the 10-day Little League World Series, played each August in front of 40,000 fans at South Williamsport’s Lamade Stadium and watched by millions more on ABC and ESPN.

Little League is marking its 75th anniversary with a new PBS documentary, a partnership with Major League Baseball and a website that’s collecting players’ memories and photos.

With thousands of local leagues in 50 states and more than 80 countries, Little League’s appeal remains little changed from June 6, 1939, when the eager boys of Lycoming Dairy and Lundy Lumber met in the inaugural game.

Oil the glove. Lace the cleats. Play ball.

And maybe learn some life lessons.

“If the kids have fun playing the game, the Little League field can really be a classroom,” said Stephen Keener, Little League’s president and CEO.

A lumber company clerk who doted on his baseball-loving nephews, Stotz saw a need for field dimensions and rules designed especially for younger boys. He promoted his idea relentlessly, and leagues patterned after Little League spread rapidly throughout the U.S., then internationally.

Stotz would later split with Little League in a legal dispute over the direction of the program, and he died in 1992. His family has since reconciled with Little League, contributing many artifacts to its museum.

“My father’s goal was to see a boy wearing a baseball hat,” said his daughter, Karen Stotz Myers. “He was thrilled so many children had that opportunity.”

A progenitor of today’s heavily organized youth sports, Little League has both reflected and shaped the culture.

It becomes a reality show each August, its young all-stars turned into mini-celebrities by saturation TV coverage of the World Series — a spectacle lamented by some critics. In the 1950s, it took a stand for civil rights by confronting dozens of whites-only leagues in South Carolina. Twenty years later, it found itself on the other end of a civil rights battle, begrudgingly admitting girls amid a series of lawsuits.

Participation has declined about 20 percent from its 1997 peak of 2.6 million, likely a function of competition from other youth sports and activities. But it’ll probably be around as long as kids like 5-year-old Owen Newcomer and his 7-year-old sister, Isabella, pick up a glove.

Little League is in their blood — their mother, grandfather and great-grandfather, Dick Hauser, are alumni.

“We just enjoyed being around it, and I couldn’t wait for my kids to get that experience,” said their mother, Jen Newcomer, who played Little League softball.

Keener, the CEO, said he’s confident Little League will be around another 75 years.

“There’s still the allure of being part of a team, of playing a game that’s very special, and doing it with the kids in your community, that I think keeps Little League relevant today.”

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Baseballpicture.jpg Majors open regional with Cherry Creek

    The Enid Majors (36-12) enter the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament today at David Allen Memorial Ballpark coming off one of their best seasons in the past few years. Now, the pressure is on as they face Cherry Creek, Colo.,at 8:15 tonight.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ballpark to observe Military Appreciation Night

    David Allen Memorial Ballpark hosts Military Appreciation Night tonight during the 6 and 8:15 games of the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament.

    July 21, 2014

  • Jeff Mullin mug 2012.jpg Rory McIlroy: There's a new tiger in town

    His father introduced him to the game when he was small, putting a golf club in his hand when he was barely past the toddler stage.
    He fell in love with it and worked hard, improving steadily. He became a terrific junior player and quickly improved.
    He was touted as the next big thing and didn’t disappoint.
    Now, at the tender age of 25, he is a multiple major champion.
    Tiger Woods? Yes, once upon a tee time. But now those words are being spoken about Rory McIlroy.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Big 12 Media Days.jpg Gundy has big plans for Hill

    The picture became a little clearer Monday of how Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year Tyreek Hill will be utilized in the Oklahoma State offense.
    And the picture is rather wide.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Briles: Baylor swinging for the fences

    Coach Art Briles and Baylor arrived at Big 12 football media days as defending champions for the first time.
    Briles has a slightly different take on the Bears’ newfound standing.

    July 21, 2014

  • Radio-TV for 7-22-14

    July 21, 2014

  • Big12.jpg Big 12 commissioner says 'change is coming' in college sports

    That was the theme of Monday's state of the conference speech by Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the first day of Big 12 Football Media Days.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Worrell takes 8th at Firekeeper Classic

    July 20, 2014

  • Fowler happy with runner-up finish

    For ex-Oklahoma State star Rickie Fowler, this is getting downright familiar.
    He’s not complaining.
    For the second time this summer, Fowler played in the final group of a major championship, failed to overcome a big deficit, and settled for the runner-up spot.

    July 20, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days start today

    The new-look Big 12 is ready for some football.  
    OK, the conference’s logo is what’s new this year. There are no changes in the makeup or format of the 10-team league, the only power conference with a round-robin schedule that determines a champion without an extra game.

    July 20, 2014

Click here for NASCAR headlines
Sports Photos


Enid News & Eagle sports photos from the month of February 2014. Enjoy all the ENE photos with full access at http://enidnews.smugmug.com.