Second Annual Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree Hits a Home Run with Players, Parents and Fans
Crisscrossing the country from Los Angeles to The Bronx, N.Y., 10 regular-season teams from metropolitan neighborhoods, traveled to Little League International over Memorial Day weekend where they made their own memories on the same fields where Little League World Series teams play each August.
“This weekend was a tremendous success,” David James, director of the Little League Urban Initiative, said. “The teams played a lot of baseball, and had a lot of fun.”
Opening ceremonies on Friday night were highlighted by the introduction of the teams, and the appearance of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum member Dave Winfield. The 2001 hall inductee welcomed all in attendance to the Jamboree, and spent Saturday as a spectator, and impromptu clinic instructor, during a short rain delay.
Mr. Winfield, who is a volunteer in the West Los Angeles Little League and parent of a current Little Leaguer, watched Jamboree games at Howard J. Lamade and Little League Volunteer Stadiums on the Little League International complex, and also visited Carl E. Stotz Memorial Field in Williamsport, home of Original League and sight of the first 12 Little League Baseball World Series.
“Williamsport is the Mecca of youth baseball,” Mr. Winfield said following his first-ever visit to central Pennsylvania. “This is the home of Little League and to come and see it makes me certain that it’s about the kids, and that’s what makes the place great.”
Throughout his stay, Mr. Winfield visited with the players and continually reminded them that anyone, no matter what size they are, can play baseball.
“I hope me coming here can give these children the inspiration to have fun participating in baseball,” Mr. Winfield, vice president and senior advisor of the San Diego Padres, said. “The Urban Initiative, and this Jamboree, says to all the children of color, ‘baseball can be for me, and I am welcome.’ ”
Dean Ricks, president of Parkchester Little League in The Bronx, N.Y., and Franklin Ferguson Jr., vice president of City of Angels Little League from Los Angeles, were as thrilled as the children upon arriving at the Jamboree.
“My expectations were overwhelmed once I saw the field, touched the grass at Lamade Stadium, and started to take in the whole environment,” Mr. Ricks said. “This is just a wonderful place, and all the teams were very nice.”
Mr. Ferguson shared his personal appreciation, and relished the opportunity provided by the Little League Urban Initiative to bring the City of Angels Little League to Williamsport.
“(The City of Angels Little League) would not exist without the efforts of David James and the Little League Urban Initiative, that’s a fact,” Mr. Ferguson said. “The Urban Initiative has made a tremendous difference in our community. We’ve been able to grow our league, and attract team sponsors. We have a lot of gratitude for Mr. James to be kind enough to invite us to Williamsport … It’s been wonderful.”
The teams were accompanied by several local league officials, volunteers, parents and fans, but it was the children participating who took home lasting memories.
Northwest Little League traveled to Williamsport from Tampa, Fla. with a busload of supporters. Ryan Collison, a first baseman for the Cardinals, said, “When we got off the bus, I thought we were at the wrong field. Our fields are raggedy as heck. On a scale of 1 to 10, our field is a two, and this a 12 … This is great!”
Joining Northwest Little League at the Jamboree were Little League programs from the following cities: Gary, Ind. (Gary Midtown Little League); Newark, N.J. (St. Francis Xavier Little League); New York (Parkchester Little League); Atlanta (Ben Hill Little League); Meriden, Conn. (Jack Barry Little League); Houston, Texas (Dixie Little League); and Los Angeles (City of Angels Little League); Whiteriver, Ariz. (White Mountain Apache Little League); and Harrisburg, Pa. (Harrisburg American Little League). The specific regular season team from each league was chosen by that league’s board of directors. One volunteer umpire from each league worked the Jamboree games.
“Since I brought a team to the Little League World Series in 1976 (Forestville LL, Bristol. Conn.), I’ve been coming to Williamsport for the Series,” Bob Watson, Connecticut District 5 Administrator, and a 50-year Little League volunteer, said. “The kids had a good time because this is like their World Series.”
The second annual Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree consisted of games, and instruction. Since this was not a tournament, no scores were kept for the games and no champion was declared.
“From Mr. Winfield’s participation, to the opportunity to play games at Original Field, to the players, coaches and families who took part in this year’s Jamboree, I want to say thank you for an outstanding weekend on behalf of all the staff at Little League International and the local volunteers who donated their time,” Mr. James said. “Soon plans will be discussed for the 2006 Urban Initiative Jamboree, and it is my hope we can make an even better experience for those attending next year’s Jamboree.”
Little League International paid the costs for transporting the teams, plus dozens of adult volunteers and parents. Housing for three nights, plus meals, was provided for the teams in the Dr. Creighton J. Hale International Grove, where Little League Baseball World Series teams live for two weeks each August.
Each player left the Jamboree with a variety of keepsakes, including a new baseball glove donated by New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina through the Mike Mussina Foundation. Mr. Mussina, who grew up five miles from Little League International in Montoursville, Pa., is a member of the Little League International Board of Directors.
On Aug. 24, 2003, during the Little League Baseball World Series, Major League Baseball announced it would provide a grant of $250,000 for the Urban Initiative. Part of that grant is used to fund the Jamboree, and enabled Little League to present Major League Baseball’s “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” educational program to the visiting teams. Breaking Barriers is an initiative created and operated for Major League Baseball by Sharon Robinson, daughter of the late Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in half a century. Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for Major League Baseball, presented the program to all of the Jamboree participants.
Tony Richardson, a Little League district administrator from New Jersey, displayed his personal collection of Negro League baseball memorabilia at the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum throughout the Jamboree.
The Little League Urban Initiative has seen success in more than a 55 cities since it began in 2000. Notably, leagues in Houston and Tampa are thriving, with thousands of children participating in Little League over the past four years.
Recently, Wrigley Little League in Los Angeles, North Seminole Little League in Tampa, Fla., and South Side Little League in Chicago received funding and assistance through the Little League Urban Initiative. Currently, more than 125 local Little Leagues in the U.S. are part of the Urban Initiative. Through 2004, the program stimulated the addition of 144 teams and 2,100 players.
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.7 million players and 1 million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries.