Carl Stotz had a problem.
While throwing a baseball around in his Williamsport, Pennsylvania, backyard with his nephews, a lilac bush kept getting in the way of play.
Anyone who has tossed a ball in the backyard knows the feeling. Shrubs, sidewalks and an occasional molehill create challenges as great as any defense.
From Stotz’s problem, a great idea was born 75 years ago today.
Kids need a place to play and a structure to follow, Stotz decided that day. Not just a baseball field, but uniforms and coaches and rules, he thought.
With three neighborhood
teams as its genesis, and a local dairy and pretzel company as sponsors, Little League was born on June 6, 1939.
“Holy jeepers!” Dick Hauser, one of a handful of the first Little League players still living, recalled the feeling of that day in an NBC interview. “This is great! This is almost out of a dream!”
The dream turned into something Stotz never could have imagined. From that humble beginning, Little League has 160,000 teams in 80 countries. It just signed an eight-year, $60 million contract with ESPN. Last year, 3.9 million viewers watched the title game between California and Japan.
That’s quite a jump for a league that started out with players sharing gloves.
Warren Beville knows that feeling. Beville was the first president of the Greenwood Little League, which was formed in 1955 as the first in the county. Park Director Clyde Hayes was a spark with the idea.
“We started with just four teams,” recalled Beville, 91, who still lives in Greenwood with his wife, Helen.
Negotiations were especially challenging with Southport, which had an established league already featuring several Greenwood players. Beville reached a deal to draw the northern boundary of the Greenwood league at Fry Road.
The league played games at the old city park and several other nearby sites before Dr. Clore, a longtime community benefactor, donated land where the league now plays near Craig Park.
It didn’t take long for Little League to become a hit with the community.
“We filled the bleachers those days,” said Beville, who had two sons play. “People really came out to watch.”
Through the years, Stotz’s Little League grew from a one-man operation to a worldwide phenomenon. The guiding principles for those who play and those who coach, though, remain unchanged.
“It teaches them sportsmanship. It teaches them friendship,” Beville said.
Indeed, it is not just the unobstructed playing field or the sponsored uniforms or even the World Series that makes Little League special on this 75th birthday.
It is the ability to transform and give life to the dreams of every kid who ever wanted to hit one out of the park.
“We were just the luckiest guys in the world,” Al Yearick, one of those original Williamsport players, said in an interview with NBC. “That’s all I can say.”
Seventy-five years later, that luck is passed on to yet another generation.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.