In 1986, baseball in Poland took an enormous leap forward when a Polish-American teacher from Connecticut visited Poland "to see where his dad grew up". While there, Stan Kokoska quickly realized the great interest young Poles had in all things that were American, and baseball in particular. He envisioned Little League baseball not just as a sport for young Poles to play during the summer months, but as a way to build character and foster unity and cooperation among them.
Kokoska talked to Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and received an enthusiastic response. He retumed to Poland the following year to solicit support from the govemment. Even though many of the fundamental concepts of Little League Baseball were alien to the Poles, Kokoska was able to convince Polish officials that Little League Baseball would produce tangible benefits.
The purpose of Little League is not just to teach youngsters baseball skills, but to develop sportsmanship, fair play, leadership and teamwork. The Poles were not used to many of the basic tenets of Little League. For one thing, it is a grassroots effort that involves all youngsters who wish to play, not just the elite athletes.
For another, it requires the active participation of volunteer coaches, an unfamiliar practice for most Poles. With the help of volunteers like Anthony Arnista, President of the Polish National Youth Baseball Foundation, progress in establishing the program came very quickly. In July 1989 the Polish Little League was chartered, and Poland became the iirst "Iron Curtain" country to join the Little League.
It so happened that 1989 was also the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the Little League, and was also the first year in which a former Little Leaguer was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Carl Yastrzemski. "Yaz", along with other former major leaguers like Stan Musial and Moe Drabowsky, joined the effort to bring Little League to Europe. Various groups in the United States have raised money and collected supplies to support Polish baseball. The Little League Polish Foundation is now in the process of raising money to construct the Little League European Training Center in Kutno, as the sport continues to thrive in Poland.
If Amir Waldo was correct in his belief that Poles brought baseball to America, the sport has now gone full circle in its successful return to Poland. While it once provided opportunities for young Polish Americans to improve their status, it now provides a means of strengthening cultural ties between the United States and Poland.
* a diamond - baseball field