First-time visitors to Williamsport, Pennsylvania — the birthplace of Little League Baseball — may be surprised to find two shrines to Little League. There’s a Carl E. Stotz Field in Williamsport and a Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport. “Why two?” some might ask. “And which is the real home of Little League Baseball?”
At first glance, these are easy questions to answer. Carl E. Stotz Field is near the site of Little League’s founding, but it is no longer Little League’s home. Lamade Stadium, part of the Little League Baseball International Headquarters complex and home of Little League since 1959, is where the Little League Baseball World Series is played every year. For this reason, it is the place most people think of when they think of Little League.
But behind these simple answers lies a much more fascinating and complicated story, one that still has deep reverberations in the Williamsport community, and one that will undoubtedly surprise many fans of Little League. That is the story we tell in this book.
It has been a challenge to digest six decades of history involving 30 million people, because the story of Little League Baseball also belongs to countless boys and girls, and to their moms and dads. Carl Stotz, Little League, Peter J. McGovern, Dr. Creighton J. Hale, Stephen D. Keener, and everyone who ever played in or volunteered for Little League are intertwined forever. We need to be respectful of the contributions of those who helped to shape the program, and of the fact that they have also, in a way, helped to shape the country and the world at the same time.
This story has many heroes. Carl Stotz, for instance, was the right man at the right place at the right time for Little League to thrive in its infancy. Dr. Creighton Hale is a hero as well, and his contributions to Little League Baseball (and to baseball in general) are well documented. Steve Keener too is a hero, for his fence mending and his rock-solid love and devotion — first to his family, then to Little League.
We the authors are typical of Little League families worldwide. Our generation was lucky to have families involved in building the first Little Leagues, and we hope our children will carry on that tradition. Every spring, we gathered at our local Cross Bayou Little League field in Largo, Florida, to prepare for opening day. The final touch to the field has always been the planting of fresh flowers around the monument at Robert D. Van Auken Field. Robert Van Auken was a Little League pioneer, and today his children, their wives, and his grandchildren still manage teams, mow grass, umpire, clean concession stands, and raise children in that healthful environment.
Our branch of the Van Auken family came to Williamsport to become a part of the Little League Headquarters family. We moved because of our love for Little League and in the belief that, as an organization, Little League can do great things for the children of the world.
This is not to say that each of us has experienced Little League in the same way. One of us has fond memories of being coached by Dad, watching older brothers play ball, and growing up as a “ball field rat.” The other (guess who!) remembers watching her brothers play ball and not being allowed to play herself, because she was a girl, and recalls that she was a teenager by the time Little League admitted girls. Our recollections of Little League as adults have been very different as well. One of us had the thrill of coaching our son and umpiring in the World Series, and the other had the satisfaction (perhaps not quite as thrilling) of working in the concession stand, running bake sales, and cheering from the stands. Thus, it is fair to say that our different experiences have given us distinct views on Little League Baseball. This has been a real advantage in writing this book, because not all readers’ experiences with Little League have been or will be the same. We’ve tried to be sensitive to that in telling Little League’s story. When the opportunity arose to write this book, we eagerly took on the task. A comprehensive history of Little League has never been written, even though Little League has touched tens of millions of lives since 1938, when Carl Stotz made a promise to his nephews in his backyard. We were compelled to write, also, by our love and profound respect for baseball itself, and the realization that so much of life’s highs and lows are reflected in the complexities — and simplicities — of a baseball game.
We are especially indebted to Little League Baseball, Incorporated, for the use of its archives, and to Steve Keener, Dr. Hale, and the many dedicated employees of Little League who were invaluable to this effort. We also wish to thank Jim and Karen Stotz Myers, Grayce Stotz, and Monya Lee Adkins for the use of Carl Stotz’s memorabilia, and Penny and Jim Vanderlin and all the Original League volunteers for their encouragement. We are grateful to Kenneth Loss for use of excerpts from the book A Promise Kept: The Story of the Founding of Little League Baseball, by Carl Stotz as told to Loss, and to Miami Herald columnist and Little League graduate Dave Barry, for his generosity and for making our lives brighter with his stories. Thanks are also due to Putsee Vannucci for many of the pictures from the Little League archives used in this book.
Many thanks to the Lycoming County Historical Society, and to the James V. Brown Library. We appreciate the use of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette archives and the support of Jim Carpenter, Jim Barr, Dan White, Dave Troisi, and, in particular, Janice Ogurcak. Special thanks to Lou Hunsinger Jr. and David Voight for sharing their considerable knowledge of baseball.
In addition, we cannot overlook the importance of three women, Margaret Gisolo, Katherine Massar, and Maria Pepe, whose courage and pioneer spirit helped to shape the future of Little League, of baseball, and of sports in general.
We are grateful to Scott and Kathie Rosenberg for their generosity and friendship. We are also grateful to Jeff Elijah for allowing us to reprint his essay on the first Little League program in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We also wish to thank Peter J. Potter, editor-in-chief of Penn State University Press, for inviting us to write this book, and Peggy Hoover, copy editor, for her extraordinary patience and expertise. The entire staff has been professional, friendly, and thorough.
We will never forget Charlie and Vivian Brush, Cyle and Calvin Van Auken, Don and Carol Machen, Lynn Kasica, Larry Smith, Frank Dubee, John Boland, John Ambler, Bob Gibson, Chip Ford, Fred Andress, the Staffeld family, the Pauley family, Brian Adair, Kevin Smalley, Kenny Danielski, Bernie Futchko, Alan and Donna Godfrey, Gray Rutherford, and the countless volunteers we have worked beside in leagues in Florida and Pennsylvania.
Finally, thank you to our families for being so supportive. We love you all.