Through its half century, Little League Baseball has been a thread that sews together the lives and memories of many people. It is a common tie, a conversation-starter, a shared tapestry of experience that stretches across the years. People meet in boardrooms and offices, in schools and universities, in clubs and restaurants, on golf courses and playing fields - and the time of Little League Baseball often comes back in a rush. The Little League "alumni association" contains bus drivers and bankers, steelworkers and senators, housepainters and Hollywood stars, athletes and accountants, teachers and tax attorneys. For all of them, talking Little League is part of the fabric of their lives.
Rock star BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN is today a popular personality who has performed all over the world. From 1959 to 1961, however, Springsteen was a popular Little Leaguer who performed in the Freehold, New Jersey American League, playing for the Indians. The singer-musician-composer may have come far since those days, but he remains fond of recalling the time when, according to his aunt, Dora Kirby, "Bruce never took his baseball cap off'. On stage, in the midst of his concert appearances, Springsteen often lapses into affectionate reminiscences about playing Little League Baseball with the Indians. "Little League had a big impact, a positive impact on my life," says Springsteen.
Fred Rove, who was Springsteen's Little League manager, remembers how "Bruce made a great improvement during his three years in Little League. The best part about him was that he was such a good, nice kid. Everybody liked him. He was an average ballplayer, but a super kid."
A fellow New Jerseyite who played Little League as a youngster and is today a popular show-business personality is actor DANNY DE VITO, who earned critical acclaim for his performances in the Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Fellow actor KURT RUSSELL reflects on the lessons Little League provided for life. "My coaches emphasized winning. But they also taught us how to lose gracefully and how to cope with disappointments. My first love was baseball, but the same desire I had to be a ballplayer has now been transferred to being an actor - and in the same spirit as I was taught in Little League."
Dr. STORY MUSGRAVE, one of seven civilian scientists to qualify as a NASA asttonaut in 1967, said he "could write an essay on the contributions, past and present, which Little League Baseball has made in my life. I played in a local league in Massachusetts as a boy. There I leamed the concept of training and practice as the means of gaining proficiency. I was exposed to the importance of teamwork and group dynamics - lessons which are so important in our space effort. Ultimately, Little League taught me that life is not all victories. We win a few, but we also lose."
TOM SELLECK is another actor who has good memories of his youthful experiences in Little League. "My father was the president of our Sherman Oaks, California, Pioneer Little League ...so naturally Little League was an important part of our family life. I was a pitcher and enjoyed some success in that role." In fact, Selleck was a stand-out performer, a consistent All-Star who pitched three nohitters and four one-hitters. "I'm a great advocate of Little League. I think it's great to be a team player and work with others. In my opinion, parents are making a mistake raising tennis players or golfers. Those sports tend to make young people egotistical and self-centered. When you're on a team, you learn how to get along with other people and to accomplish something worthwhile."
One of the most decorated pilots in United States history, MICHAEL SMITH, was the pilot of the space shuttle Challenger. He was killed along with the other members of his crew in the tragic explosion of the rocket just seventy-three seconds into its flight on January 28, 1986. Smith was forty years old at his death. In his youth he played in the Little League program with the Beaufort, North Carolina, Elks. As an adult he often commented on how the lessons he learned in Little League, lessons involving discipline and leadership, helped him in later life. Charlie Hassell, his coach back then, remembers the curly-haired boy: "The thing that sticks out in my mind about Michael is his determination. In everything he did, he was a leader. If we would have had a team captain, undoubtedly it would have been Michael...but he never had any aspiration to play pro ball...Al1 that young man ever wanted to do was fly."
Fans everywhere know only too well how expert STEPHEN KING, who has authored so many "suspense novels" it is just plain scary, has become at the subtle art of intertwining intriguing plots and complex character traits to keep the reader in a state of lasting suspense. When the topic shifts from horror to baseball, Stephen King resembles Rockwell more than Hitchcock. Not all baseball fans have experienced, but all can appreciate, the emotions this talented wordsmith can evoke, or the vivid images he inspires his readers to imagine when talking about Little League Baseball.
For example in 1994 Stephen King wrote about Little League...
"In this world, dreams are still clear (if sometimes grimy), often they are round and held with the fingers over the seams."
"The game is still allowed to make them happy, in other words. 'These are the faces of children who have not yet been told that the dream is usually just on loan, there to be looked at and lived in and enjoyed only for a short, dust-golden time."
'- the years when you come back from the field, sit on the back step and pour the sand out of your sneakers before going in barefoot to eat your supper."
"This is an age when it's still O.K. to cry if you strike out to end the game or to scream deliriously if you drive one over the centerfielder's head to get your first hit of the season after striking out 14 times ..."
"These are fields where little sisters are still tolerated and where excellence is hoped for and appreciated but never expected. It is a magic place because it is one of the few where adult organization and childhood play are still in balance."
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR is a former Little Leaguer who went on to become a legendary figure in NBA. He was known as Lew Alcindor and he lived and played in New York City.
"I remember being presented with our league's sportsmanship award when I was twelve years old. That was a big thrill. Little League is a great organisation. I'm proud to have been a part of it." he says. However, according to Kareem, his team never won the big game. They always lost the league championship by one run. "As a competitor, I was always embarrased that we never won the big game. But I'll always remember those outstanding times."
composed by Stas Wnukowski