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Kevin Costner, Billy Hunter and  Dr. Robert Stratta Enshrined in  Little League Hall of Excellence

Kevin Costner

Billy Hunter

Dr. Robert Stratta

WILLIAMSPORT, PA – Borrowing a line from "Field of Dreams," Kevin Costner said his memories of Little League are "so thick that I have to brush them away from my face," as he accepted enshrinement into the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum Hall of Excellence during the 54th annual Little League Baseball World Series.

The Oscar-winning director and actor was one of three enshrinees into the Hall of Excellence. All three enshrinees attended ceremonies at noon on Saturday, Aug. 26, in front of the museum. The event, which was open to the public, drew a record crowd of about 2,500. The other enshrinees were Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association, and Dr. Robert Stratta, a transplant surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Tennessee, Memphis.

"Little League Baseball was such a huge part of my life," Mr. Costner said in his acceptance speech. "As a kid and as a father, the memories are, in fact, so thick that I have to brush them away from my face.

"I was the kid who, before I could play, chased every foul ball so I could get a piece of gum. I was the kid who, before I could play, was out on the field running the bases after my brother’s game, imagining myself hitting the game-winning hit. I would ask my father, who taught us about baseball, to wear his metal cleats and walk on the cement so I could hear them click. The memories are so thick."

Mr. Hunter, who has led the NBA player’s union since 1996, graduated from Delaware Township Little League in Cherry Hill, N.J., where he was a pitcher and infielder on a team that made it all the way to the Little League Baseball World Series final in 1955. A talented all-around athlete, Mr. Hunter starred in four sports in high school and, as a running back, captained the Syracuse University football team to a Sugar Bowl appearance in the early 1960s. He began working toward a law degree while playing professional football for the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. He worked in the district attorney’s office for Alameda and San Francisco counties before serving as United States Prosecutor for Northern California from 1976-83.

"This is one of the highest honors I have ever received," Mr. Hunter said in his speech. "Playing baseball instilled in me a hunger I just couldn’t quench. Little League Baseball was the catalyst to get me into other sports. It created within me a desire to excel not only on the athletic field, but also academically."

Like Mr. Hunter, Dr. Stratta also pitched in the Little League Baseball World Series and was the pitcher of record for North Roseland Little League, North Roseland, Ill., in its championship game encounter with Japan in 1967.

Dr. Stratta went on to earn a college baseball scholarship and a medical degree. He’s been a transplant surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Tennessee-Memphis since 1997. Before that, he had led the Clinical Pancreas Transplant Team at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, for seven years.

"I was fortunate enough to make this journey to Williamsport 33 years ago," Dr. Stratta said to the crowd. "I am grateful for the opportunity to journey here once again to relive this cherished memory. I don’t accept this honor today as a recognition of personal achievement., but rather as a validation that the lessons learned in Little League, as applied in the game of life or whatever field of endeavor, are a formula for success."

Mr. Costner is a graduate of Saticoy Little League near Ventura, Calif., where he was a gifted pitcher in a league where his father coached and umpired and his mother operated the snack bar. He went on to star in several movies, including baseball movie classics "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams." His 1990 film "Dances with Wolves," won him Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and he has been part of some of the most popular films of the 1990s including "JFK," "The Body Guard," "Tin Cup," "Message in a Bottle" and his third baseball movie, 1999’s "For Love of the Game."

"My dream was to come to Williamsport, but I never got any closer than Saturday on TV with Jim McKay," Mr. Costner said. "That was a thrill, and I rearranged whatever schedule I had as a 12-year old to watch that game. This is no longer Saturday on TV for me – this is real. I’m so glad I was thought of and so glad I came and accepted it."

Mr. Costner, along with his son Joe, daughters Anne and Lilly, and companion Christine Baumgartner, attended Friday night’s Jamboree All Star Game and all of Saturday’s festivities, as well as the championship game. He credits his parents and Little League for providing the positive influence he needed early in life.

"The thing that was the most important thing to me during my childhood was my parents. They gave everything so that we could play, and there was an organization there to receive me, as well as kids from affluence, kids from the inner city and kids from the country. Thank God for Little League Baseball and how it’s managed itself."

Hall of Excellence enshrinees are selected through a defined voting system by the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum Advisory Board. The Hall of Excellence, since 1988, has recognized Little League Baseball graduates who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in their chosen profession and exemplify the values learned as youngsters in Little League Baseball.

The Little League Baseball World Series ended Aug. 26, with Sierra Maestra Little League of Maracaibo, Venezuela, defeating Bellaire (Texas) Little League, 3-2, for the world championship. Other participating teams in the tournament were: Musashi Fuchu Little League of Tokyo, Japan; Arabian American Little League of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; High Park (Toronto, Canada) Little League; Hazel Dell Little League of Vancouver, Wash.; Goffstown (N.H.) Little League; and Davenport (Iowa) East Little League.

About 15,000 games in six weeks are played nationwide in Little League Division tournaments leading up to the regional tournaments. Teams representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia advance to the four U.S. regional tournaments, where tournament play continues for a week or more. Thirty-six states and 21 countries have sent teams to the Little League World Series since the first Series was played in 1947. Little League Baseball is the largest organized youth sports program in the world, with nearly 3 million participants in all 50 states and 103 other countries.  

For more information contact: 
Lance Van Auken, Director of Media Relations and Communications
Little League Baseball International Headquarters 
(570) 326-1921 
Media E-mail: media@littleleague.org
WEB Site: http://www.littleleague.org