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Missing Little League: Disappointed… but Optimistic

It was great catching up with my good friend Steve Keener recently. My intention was to ask him some questions for my column this week. Our conversation covered everything from family to baseball, to how blessed we are to call the West Branch Valley our home.

Of course, most of our chat was about everything that is Little League Baseball right on up to the Major Leagues and beyond.

One of the topics we got stuck on for a while was Little League’s new Sandlot Program, which is kids just having fun playing the game of baseball like we did back in the day. This is definitely something missing in the over organized world of today.

So instead of me providing some innings of middle relief, I figured the best thing to do was let Steve throw a complete game and pen this week’s article himself. Thank you to Steve, and all the great folks at Little League Baseball for the job they do.

God Bless America

By Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO

To say we miss it is an understatement.

We should be together right now. Stadium music should be stuck in our heads. Our meals should be eaten out of cardboard containers. Old friends and new ones should be conversing on the concourse. Lycoming County should be buzzing with visitors from around the world, and the anticipation of another Little League Baseball World Series Championship coursing through every conversation.

The Little League World Series is truly where the world comes together; all cultures, races, and ethnicities are not only accepted but celebrated — on the field and off. But this year, no banners are hanging in the windows of our community’s businesses or being prepared for presentation to the 2020 championship team. That void we’re all feeling, at Little League International, and throughout the Williamsport community, is one we can’t fully fill until we’re back on the field.

The games of baseball and softball are best suited for teaching children, and all of us, how to deal with, and overcome, adversity. There’s always the next at-bat after a tough strikeout or the next fly ball after an error in the field. These sports teach us to cope with difficult times, learn from those moments, and get better. At Little League International, that’s what we’re doing.

Our new Little League Sandlot Fun Days program has provided opportunities and excitement to communities around the world. At a time when creating schedules and plans can be challenging, this program focuses on flexibility and fun, letting our leagues bring enough players together for a game, follow a few basic safety guidelines, and then allow the kids to take the lead in picking teams, calling balls and strikes, and just enjoying themselves on the baseball and softball field. Hundreds of leagues have started bringing Sandlot Fun Days to their communities, and we hope this continues to be an opportunity for kids to just have fun on the field and learn few life lessons along the way.

As the world has turned to virtual experiences, so has Little League. Not just in our education and training efforts, but in an effort to provide those Little League moments that we’re so used to celebrating this time of year. We are reliving past moments on our social media channels of amazing displays of skills from young players, those unique moments that the ESPN cameras happen to capture, and, perhaps most importantly, the displays of sportsmanship that the Little League World Series is known for. We will continue to use every effort possible to provide that connection to our program, as we await the return of being safely together again.

And when we are ready to return to the field, we will be ready, and have a lot on the horizon to look forward to. The 75th Little League Baseball World Series will be celebrated in 2022; the upcoming expansion of teams at the Little League Baseball and Little League Softball World Series; the 2021 MLB Little League Classic returning to Historic Bowman Field; and our continued great relationship with ESPN that shines such a bright light on our organization and entire Williamsport community each August.

While we’re missing it now, we remain optimistic and look forward to what 2021 can bring. We hope that the developments in the treatment and prevention of the Coronavirus around the world will help us plan for a safe and memorable World Series next year. And, as we focus our energy on bringing the world back to Williamsport, everyone at Little League International joins me in sending good wishes with hopes that our entire community stays safe and well. And with a little luck and a lot of hard work, we’ll see you at the ballpark next August.

Jim Webb

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