Kids’ baseball is a really great American tradition. Fathers can relate to their children who play Little League because male adults remember the experience as something vital that taught them life-skills and socialization during their youth. Little League is as American as apple pie and now the rest of the world is finally wonderfully acclimated to enjoying everything American including baseball. That particular American sports’ heritage was very special to me while growing-up in the 1950s and I will always have many fond recollections of Little League Baseball.
Even an institution as wonderful as Little League has its vocal critics. Some carpers complain that the sport emphasizes competition too much and that the lesser skilled kids sitting on the bench ought to get more playing time. Other grievers cite that the risk of injury is all-too-real.
I wholeheartedly believe that Little League is a terrific “coming of age” American growth experience. It teaches kids organizational skills, division of labor, cooperation and competition. By organization I mean nine kids have to function like one unit harmoniously working under one main coach. In division of labor those same nine kids must efficiently perform different tasks and responsibilities. The players must cooperate with each other in order to defeat the opposing team in fair and square competition. Dual Motors versus Kiwanis is actually a small-scale version of Apple going up against IBM or of General Motors taking on Ford. That’s what makes Little League so uniquely American and why the inherent rivalries in sports help to perpetuate this country’s unparalleled “free enterprise” value system.
For those critics who claim and insist that LL is dangerous, I should remind them that there is danger and risk everywhere. If every young boy or girl lived in a protective bubble, no kids would ever interact. Each one would be floating around in a separate vacuum. Those squeaky-gear LL critics should not cross streets, should not walk down crowded aisles in Wal-Mart having merchandise stacked up to the ceiling and should not mow their lawns or drive to Wildwood or Cape May on summer vacations because something threatening might unexpectedly happen.
Dangers exist and loom all around us and in Little League competition, injuries predominantly happen by accident and they are not deliberately or maliciously inflicted. I guess that’s one particular reason I absolutely love Little League Baseball. I have always been quite fascinated by physical danger and by intense competition, especially in sports.
In 1953 I had played Hammonton Little League ball for the town team DiDonato’s Bowling. My coach was Mr. Reid, and his son Bruce was also the shortstop on the team. Bruce’s older brother Frank would come to the practices and help his dad work with the players and ironically, Frank’s son Scott wound-up working for me in my boardwalk arcade in Ocean City, Maryland two decades later. From my own life experience, there’s no doubt in my mind that LL promotes an appreciation of the American free-enterprise economic system. It made me love the thrill of competition on the field and later in my adult life in my business enterprises.
I remember how thrilled I was in ‘53 as a ten-year-old getting my first hit, a bunt single. I also recall playing in a game when an older kid on the Hammonton Dual Motors team hit a towering fly ball to me in left field. I anxiously backed up to the fence, looked up above the lights into the night sky, closed my eyes, and miraculously, the white ball plopped into my glove as my knees were clattering. I opened my lids when I heard the fans on both sides of the field cheering my stellar achievement. That adventure was a real confidence builder I could have never found living in a protective bubble.
In ‘53, I still recollect kids still leaving their mitts on the field between innings. I still think about the thrill of playing night baseball at Hammonton (New Jersey) Lake Park just like the Phillies and the A’s had done under the lights at Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) and how terrific it felt proudly playing ball in a league that had won the coveted Little League World Championship just four years earlier in 1949.
The following year my family moved to Levittown, Pennsylvania where I had to make new friends and find a new baseball team to play on. I was assigned to Meenan Oil in the spring of ‘54, and there were so many kids out for each position that I was becoming discouraged. I had to beat out eight rivals to be the starting second baseman. The intense “competition” brought out the best in me and with sheer determination I eventually won the starting job. I played for Coach Siegel, who like Coach Reid back in Hammonton derived satisfaction from working with kids. Both men (and most adults associated with Little League) were (and are) good concerned citizens volunteering their time and effort to help youngsters accomplish and grow.
In 1955, my good friend Mike Hunter and I were selected from Meenan Oil to play on the Levittown National League All-Star Team. We went up against our bitter rivals, the American League squad and with an element of luck won the game. After another victory, my National League All-Star Team encountered Morrisville, which had two kids that stood six-feet-three. One was Dick Hart (who later in life was a lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles) and the other Tommy Kaczor, who was Morrisville’s main pitcher. Both kids were very intimidating. It was a close contest but then in the fifth inning Hart hit a ball so high to the centerfielder that when it came down, it split the webbing in Jerry Friedrich’s glove. Hart was already on third base when the ball finally hit the ground and then he trotted home with the go ahead run.
I was devastated because I believed that Levittown National had a better overall team. But then Morrisville went on to win the Little League World Championship at Williamsport, and I listened to every one of their games on the radio. I got to admit that I became a loyal Morrisville fan that summer of ‘55 after being very disappointed being defeated by them.
So in conclusion, I suppose that possibly the best things Little League experience teaches kids are how to handle failure and how to show good sportsmanship after being defeated. And then in 1960 I was elated when Levittown, Pa. went on to win the highly coveted Little League World Series.
And so, I came from a league (Hammonton, NJ) that had won the Little League World Championship in ‘49, played against an excellent Morrisville, Pennsylvania team that won it all in ‘55, and cheered for the old Levittown, PA (American) League squad that won it all in ‘60. Those three unforgettable fond memories will always remain with me as long as I shall live, and in 1954-‘60, the remarkable events could only happen in America.
Jay Dubya (author of 41 books)