Japan snatched the title from Florida, but to the delight of a 45,000-strong crowd former Little Leaguer U.S. President George W. Bush was in Williamsport, PA in August to watch the Little League Championship Game.
The 2001 Little League World Series will go down in history as one of the most memorable and significant events in Little League's glorious 55 years.
With the official dedication of their new 5,000-seat Volunteer Stadium and totally refurbished complex, Little League Baseball hosted its inaugural 16-team, 10-day tournament in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from August 17 to 26, 2001, thereby doubling the size of the tournament. Little League welcomed eight teams from the United States and eight teams from around the world, including Kutno, Poland's European Regional Tournament Champions, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Saudi Arabia (1 win, 2 defeats) beat Latin America for its lone victory in the tournament. Russia, in its first World Series appearance, failed to win a game. More importantly, though, they won the hearts of the Williamsport fans for their spirit, hustle and enthusiastic play. In Little League, it's the experience of playing, not the final score, that really counts.
In a thrilling final Championship Game in the Lamade Stadium, Japan defeated Florida 2:1. Japan scored two runs in the final inning to shock a record crowd of nearly 45,000 people who turned out not only to witness a great baseball game, but also to get a glimpse of one of the most famous people ever to play Little League Baseball: U.S. President George W. Bush! The President's visit marked the first time a sitting president had come to the city of Williamsport, PA in nearly 50 years.
President Bush is a big baseball fan whose childhood dream was to attend the Little League World Series. Together with his wife, Laura, they watched three innings of the Championship game from the stands. Prior to the game, the President threw out the ceremonial "First Pitch" and was later inducted into the Little League Baseball Hall of Excellence, a recognition for Little League graduates who have achieved great success in their adult lives.
The large crowd gave President Bush a huge ovation as Steve Keener, President/CEO of Little League, called Bush "the ultimate role model for Little Leaguers." Keener cited a newspaper article written in 1955 by Walt Disney, where the great visionary predicted that a Little Leaguer might someday grow up and be president of the United States. His prediction came true when George W. Bush was elected as the 43rd American president.
President Bush said, "Little League is a family sport that teaches good values such as competitiveness and teamwork." He also encouraged all the young people to always listen to their mothers - like he did as a youngster and still does as an adult!
In the writer's opinion, the President's comments were right on the money, and truly his appearance helped make this Little League World Series one to be remembered!
- Bill Piszek