Nothing says summer like kids playing ball. And, that’s exactly what transpires in mid-August in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, during the Little League World Series. It’s been happening since 1947 and this year takes place Thursday, Aug. 17 through Aug. 27 with ESPN providing the television coverage.
Throughout the United States, and in parts of the world that include Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Japan, Latin America and Mexico, regional qualifying tournaments were held earlier in the summer to determine the best of the best all-star teams. Eventually, 16 teams emerged consisting of boys ages 11-13 who play in two brackets: The United States Pool and the International Pool.
True baseball fans may see the stars of tomorrow. Todd Frazier, who was recently acquired by the New York Yankees, was on the Toms River, New Jersey team that won the LLWS in 1998. Gary Sheffield, Jason Bay, Jason Marquis and Wilson Alvarez are all former big-leaguers who played in the LLWS. Even athletes from other sports have taken part, including Tennessee Titans backup quarterback Matt Cassell, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe, and former NHL stars Chris Drury and Stephane Matteau.
One name you may recall from the modern era is Danny Almonte, a lights-out pitcher from the Bronx, New York who was born in the Dominican Republic and whose real age was questioned following his dominance in the 2001 LLWS. Over time it would be determined that he was 14 when his team eventually lost the title that summer. Almonte never made it out of college ball because of arm issues, and today coaches for a high-school team in New York City.
While the LLWS is traditionally about boys in the 11-13 age class, Little League as an organization is about so much more. There are numerous divisions for boys and girls ages 4-18 under the Little League umbrella for both baseball and softball; from t-ball right up to the big league. Some of these tournaments also find their way to the wide-screen. But in South Williamsport the attention will focus on 16 teams from around the world made up of pre-teen boys who play with all their heart.
While a U.S. team has won 34 LLWS, including the defending champs from Maine-Endwell, New York, Taiwan leads all individual teams with 17 titles. In recent years, teams from Japan, who has won ten titles overall, have dominated, making 12 appearances since 1998 and winning seven titles, including in 2015.
Meanwhile, what’s better in the heart of summer than a bunch of young kids getting together on a ball field and playing a few games of baseball? Batter up!