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South Williamsport, PA
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Baseball, Hot Dogs & Apple Pie

Without any proven data to rely on, I would guess that there aren’t many Americans thrilled with ‘the new normal’ that is being introduced to our daily lives. It could be safely assumed that most would much prefer the pre-COVID norm that we have been living without for the past 16 months. However, glimpses of

Without any proven data to rely on, I would guess that there aren’t many Americans thrilled with ‘the new normal’ that is being introduced to our daily lives. It could be safely assumed that most would much prefer the pre-COVID norm that we have been living without for the past 16 months.

However, glimpses of what we all prefer are starting to resurface, headlined by the return of the Little League World Series this August. It won’t be what we have been accustomed to, and local fan attendance will be limited, but at least the young boys of summer will once again be gathering at the South Williamsport complex.

Like so many other workplaces, Little League’s local headquarters has undergone both internal and external changes since the last World Series was played in 2019. Little League officials have announced this year’s Series will be comprised entirely of United States entries. To keep the familiar 16-team formats, both the championship and runner-up teams from the eight U.S. regional sites will be coming to Williamsport.

The brackets have been divided into newly named Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver divisions, named in honor of the two baseball greats who passed away earlier this year. Regional championship teams will play against runner-up teams from other regions in the opening round, which will begin Thursday, August 19. The championship game will take place Sunday, August 29, at 3:00 p.m.

Little League has also announced that teams’ uniform colors for this year’s Series have been given a whole new look. Additionally, the uniform jerseys will not feature the names of the various regional identifications. Instead, they will include the lettering “Little League Baseball.” The Softball World Series to be played in Greensboro, North Carolina, will include uniforms denoting Little League Softball.

With the summer season now in full swing, I’m reminded of the old 1975 Chevrolet TV commercial that happily embraced the phrase that exemplified our American culture. Many will remember that iconic jungle, “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” Now, 46 years later, those same entities still exist, but in many American communities, the baseball part has been in decline.

We are all aware of the trauma undergone by the Williamsport Crosscutters franchise that was one of 40+ communities losing their minor league team under the ax of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s re-organization initiative. Thankfully, the team was able to resurface as a member of the new MLB Draft League. The same cannot be said for many local youth league baseball programs, including once-affiliated Little League Baseball programs.

As the calendar flips to July, the various local District 12 Little League programs have been conducting their all-star tournaments. While youngsters are still enjoying that exciting experience, the number of teams taking part is in sharp contrast to what it once was. Most of the tournaments are comprised of six teams or fewer, and several leagues chose not to compete due to a lack of sufficient players.

What has happened here has happened elsewhere. A recent article published in the Indianapolis Star served as a stark reminder that ‘the new normal’ is not something to celebrate.

For many years I had the privilege of serving as LLB’s Central Region Director, which afforded me the opportunity to assist hundreds of leagues enjoy the Little League experience. One of those leagues was the Warren Little League, the subject of the Indianapolis Star’s article. As this season draws to a close, so does the 60-year marriage between the league’s youngsters and Little League. The league has experienced declining participation and is losing its fields for the construction of a football facility.

In its article, the Star quoted Matt Harris, one of the league’s coaches.

“The biggest loss is that of community. It’s not a big community anymore. But a lot of us have been coaching the same group of kids for years. We might have a chance to do that when we merge with Irvington (a neighboring league). But a lot of these kids will stop playing, or they will go elsewhere. You’re not in the same place anymore, so you won’t have that sense of community. For those of us who have been out there as players and coaches for 30-plus years, it’s really sad.

“I played in the Warren Little League. I was a mediocre baseball player, but I loved Little League.

“It’s not the same as travel ball where you go out and play multiple games. You’d play your one game and then hang out with your friends. That concept really doesn’t exist anymore. I think it’s travel ball (that is causing a decline in numbers) — and I don’t want to imply that there’s anything wrong with travel ball. If that’s something people want to do and can make the investment, by all means, do it. But I think people see the numbers here dwindle and say,” I can’t play competitive baseball unless I do travel.’ That just perpetuates the problem. I don’t see any recovery for it.”

Locally, Maynard and Memorial Little Leagues have faded from existence, and many of the remaining leagues have found it necessary to play with combined schedules. But the Little League World Series will once again put our community in the baseball spotlight, and we can all enjoy hot dogs and apple pie; regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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