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For the Love of the Game and Those Who Play It

For the Love of the Game and Those Who Play It

Williamsport welcomes the World! What a wonderful time of year to be a baseball fan, and live right here in the West Branch Valley. If you are in town for the 72nd playing of the Little League World Series, it’s great to have you. Welcome to the home of Little League Baseball. I hope you have a fantastic stay here in our neck of Penn’s woods.

Good luck and good health to all the teams. To those parents, families, and fans that have followed your once-in-a-lifetime All-Star squads, from all corners of the Earth, congratulations. You have made it to the Little League World Series! The mecca of youth baseball. A truly amazing summer experience that requires an unbelievable commitment. You are very special folks. Tip of the cap for your dedication to the players and coaches participating in this year’s LLWS. As you have learned, it’s a long and winding road to Williamsport.

Little League International is the largest youth sports organization in the world. For the 2018 baseball and softball seasons, it is estimated that over 2.7 million young folks participated, making up over 190 thousand teams worldwide. The Major Division of Little League Baseball for the United States makes up roughly 2.2 million of the total number of ballplayers. It is from this age group that the 11 and 12-year-olds are chosen to represent their local league to hopefully play on to Williamsport. It is from this wealth of talent we have narrowed it down to eight teams representing the United States and eight teams representing the World.

As always, Little League CEO Mr. Stephen Keener and the folks “Up on the Hill” in South Williamsport have both Volunteer and Lamade Stadiums groomed to perfection. They are two of the best baseball diamonds to be found at any level. Steve has done a great job at growing Little League Baseball around the globe. He would deflect the credit to his staff and all the volunteers who make it happen.

Little League baseball began in 1939 in the West End/Newberry area of Williamsport. As always, tip of the cap to the founder Mr. Carl Stotz. He was all about kids being able to have fun while learning about and playing our national pastime. Mr. Stotz was the man for the job of getting Little League going.

Steve Keener has been the man for the job of continuing to grow Little League Baseball while keeping it true to its original founding father’s idea. Which is a difficult job in the high-dollar sports world we live in today. Most importantly, he’s managed to keep the fun in baseball while addressing issues of today.

For the 2018 season, Little League Baseball teamed up with USA Baseball to address the bat issue. Their approach at the plate was the correct one — how do we best prepare little league players for when they move up to the big field as a teenager, high schooler, and hopefully collegiate player. I guess I should also add in Major League because the number of Little Leaguers in the MLB continues to grow.

The other issue with the composite, alloy/aluminum bats being used was they had become just flat-out too hot. Home runs had become a check swing for a 50-pound kid to the opposite field. The ball just came off the bat way too fast and went too far, which, in the MLB, is now referred to as exit velocity. It was the bat manufacturing technology of today combined with the evolution of the 21st century Little Leaguer that created an opportunity for a very bad result.

I have watched this season, and I believe Little League has hit a home run along with USA Baseball on the bat standards introduced. It is referred to as BBCOR for teenage players, high schoolers, and the NCAA. It’s USABat for Little Leaguers.

In a nutshell, without getting into the science, the players have a bat that now feels, looks and performs like those used at the older levels. Are there going to be as many home runs? Absolutely not. But again, player development and safety have to be the most important issues. A Little League diamond is a small area and that ball gets back on the pitcher and third baseman way too quick. I applaud Little League and USA Baseball for their handling of this hot issue.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Toms River East Little League defeated a team from Kashima, Japan to claim the 1998 World Series title. What a great LLWS that was! I remember the game like it was yesterday. Future Major Leaguer Todd Frazier had himself a day. He led the game off with a home run, went 4-4 at the plate and got the win on the mound. Final score USA 12 – Japan 9. I’m sure Todd wishes his New York Mets were having a season like that.

Hopefully, we have a Little League World Series moment like that to look back on from this year. There is much more on the World Series, places to eat and things to do around our area within the pages ahead. Enjoy your time spent here in South Williamsport, and if you have any questions, please call my office 570-326-9322.

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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