History of Little League Baseball and Softball

800px-LIttle_League_baseball,_May_2009

The smell of fresh cut grass, the laughter of children, the ping of the bat, and the screaming emanating from the parents can mean only one thing: Little League baseball and softball are in full swing! The exact date that baseball became a game is unknown. According to “littleleague.org,” children began playing the game the same time that adults picked up a bat and ball. Members of the Continental Army played a version of the game at Valley Forge, according to the site. No data exists confirming that George Washington had a 100 mph fastball or could hit 600 foot home runs! I mean, after all, this is the same man who threw a silver dollar over the Potomac River. Sorry, I digress.

Many baseball historians cite the first organized baseball game as taking place on June 19, 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey between the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club and the New York Baseball Club. The Knickerbockers lost 23-1 in four innings.

Soldiers on both sides during the American Civil War played the game to pass the time between battles. The first professional franchise, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, began play in 1869. However, leagues for children were not documented until the 1880s. In New York, some children’s leagues became affiliated with adult leagues but did not thrive. More often, kids could be seen in the streets or on sandlots playing the game with broken equipment such as re-taped bats and balls. Such was the kids’ game until the 1920s when the American Legion established a league for teen-age boys that still exists today.

The organized game for younger kids can find its roots in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the late 1930s. Carl Stotz often played baseball with his nephews and wanted an organized program for the younger kids. Along with his nephews and some of the other neighborhood children, Stotz experimented with different types of equipment and field dimensions. In 1939, Stotz and some of his adult family members formed an organized league with three teams. Stotz’s vision was to provide a means to teach the virtues of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork to the town’s boys. The league had no official name but the players played with equipment and on a field suited more to their size.

After conversations with friends in the community, Stotz named his three-team organization: Little League. He enlisted some of the local merchants to sponsor the teams so that the kids could have the proper equipment and uniforms.

In subsequent years, Little League Baseball programs sprang up across the United States and in many countries across the world. Little League Baseball boasts the world’s largest organized youth sports program, and this program can be found in all 50 states and in more than 80 countries. Each year in August, 11-12 year old boys (sometimes girls) on teams from the United Sates and across the globe compete for about ten days in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the Little League World Series.  Teams from the United States compete in one division while teams from across the globe compete in an international division.  The division winners play one game for the right to be called Little League World Series champions.

Little League Softball does not have quite the history of Little League Baseball but the participants are no less competitive. According to Barbara Sorensen in an article for “livestrong.com,” the game of softball originated in the late 1880s in Chicago as mainly an indoor alternative for baseball players trying to stay in shape during the cold Chicago winters. The game moved to the outdoors in warmer weather. The first women’s team appeared in the city in 1895; however, the sport would not be widely accepted until the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where more than 350,000 people observed individuals playing the game.

The game evolved into the more competitive fast pitch version of today. The fields are smaller than baseball fields with the bases only 60 feet apart instead of the  90 feet in baseball, and the ball is larger than a baseball so that it can be hit more easily. College women can, throwing underhand, reach 75 mph to 80 mph on their pitches.

The Softball Little League originated in 1984 and today more than 360,000 participants play on more than 24,000 teams in 24 countries across the world. Its principles are similar to those of Little League Baseball: promote teamwork and sportsmanship, strengthen player self-esteem and develop leaders.

Like its baseball brothers, the Little League Softball World Series takes place every year in August for 11-12 year old girls on teams from across the United States and the world.  Under the softball format, United States teams and international teams are divided into two divisions, no separate U.S. and international divisions exist.  After a series of games involving all the teams, the top four seeds from each division play a single elimination tournament to determine the Little League Softball World Series champion.   Portland, Oregon provides first class hospitality for the games.

Whether the game involves Little League Baseball or Little League Softball, the participants offer much enthusiasm, fun and entertainment. Nothing exemplifies the pure love of the game than the boys and girls of baseball and softball. The only issue involves putting them to bed at night following the post-game sugar rush from the concession stand. Oh, to be a kid again!

Comments

  1. Great article! Thank you for the recap of how Little League Baseball and Softball came into being and how they have grown over the decades. It’s easy to assume that these leagues have ‘always been’ because they are such an integral part of so many childhoods. Very interesting reading.

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