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The Fourth Annual Urban Initiative Jamboree Hits the Fields
Through the generosity of the Torii Hunter Project and Major League Baseball, these regular season teams (10 Major Division teams; four Junior Division teams) from urban communities and neighborhoods have made the memorable trip to the home of Little League Baseball and Softball and began playing games on Friday.
The weekend’s slate of games and profiles of the Jamboree teams can be found here:
“ I always wanted to come to the place were the Little League World Series is played … It’s like going to Yankee Stadium.,” Kirk Crump, Jr., manager for the Oak Park Little League Giants from Sacramento, Calif., said. “Some of the parents didn’t understand what coming to the Jamboree meant, but once I explained it to them they got so excited that they haven’t slept for the last two weeks.
“As for the kids, we have eight or nine players who had never been out of the city before or flown on an airplane,” Mr. Crump said. “They didn’t understand, or realize there was baseball in Florida, and baseball in Oregon, etc. I told them, ‘there will be teams from all over, and that’s why they call it Little League International.’”
Recognizing the merits of the Urban Initiative and the unique opportunity afforded by the Jamboree, Torii Hunter, the All-Star outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, and several fellow Major League Baseball players, have contributed funds to support the 2007 Jamboree through the Torii Hunter Project, which is designed to encourage more African American children to play baseball. For years, the Little League Urban Initiative – Little League’s endeavor to bring the benefits of the program to families in urban areas – has provided young people a chance to play baseball where there was once little opportunity.
Participating in the Jamboree are Little League teams from the following cities: Albuquerque, N.M. (Thunderbird Little League); Tampa, Fla. (Belmont Heights Little League and North Seminole Little League); Pittsburgh, Pa. (North Braddock Little League); Sacramento, Calif. (Oak Park Little League); Chicago (Broadview Youth Little League); Portland, Ore. (Peninsula Little League); Houston, Texas (OFA Little League); Asbury Park, N.J. (Asbury Park Little League); Bridgeport, Conn. (Park City Little League); Akron, Ohio (West Akron Little League); Kansas City, Mo. (Kansas City East Little League), Brockton, Mass. (Brockton South West Little League); and Ft. Wayne, Ind. (District 10 Southeast Little League). One volunteer umpire from each league is also participating.
“When I told the kids we were going to Williamsport, they said, ‘We’re going to be in the Little League World Series,’” J.J. Lincoln, manager of the Peninsula Little League team from Portland, Ore., said. “First, I had to settle them down. Then, I had to tell them they were just playing where the World Series is played. Still, it’s exciting. This is the pinnacle … This is where you want to get to.”
Nearly 250 children from Urban Initiative Little Leagues have arrived at Little League International. Accompanying the teams are their managers and coaches, along with other local league officials and family members. The teams were recognized during opening ceremonies on Friday night.
On Saturday and Sunday, games will be played at Howard J. Lamade and Little League Volunteer Stadiums, the same fields that host the annual Little League Baseball World Series games, as well as three other fields (one Little League-size; two standard-size) on the Little League International complex. Carl Stotz Memorial Field, near the site of the first Little League games in 1939, and home to Original League also will host Jamboree games. Sunday morning, the teams will participate in a Pitch, Hit & Run competition supported by Major League Baseball.
Sunday evening, former Major League Baseball player and manager Dusty Baker will be a guest at the Jamboree’s closing ceremonies.
“Everyone is looking forward to the weekend,” Lorenzo Vigil, manager of the Yardmen from Thunderbird Little League in Albuquerque, N.M., said. “I’ve seen the Little League World Series on TV, and knew this was going to be beautiful, I just didn’t know how beautiful. The kids are overwhelmed.
“People back home want us to bring back pins and souvenirs and we’re going to do that, because we only have three teams in our division,” Mr. Vigil said. “The parents were ecstatic about us coming, and we told them all that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
In 2004, the inaugural Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree welcomed eight leagues from the Eastern U.S. In the past two years, 10 regular-season teams from leagues aided, or chartered through, the Urban Initiative traveled to Little League International from various points throughout the country.
“The Little League Urban Initiative has quickly evolved into vital component of Little League,” Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “The smiles on the faces of the players, parents and local league officials attending the annual Jamboree express that success, but moreover illustrate the appreciation for the program, and reinforce how important a role Little League can play in a child’s life.”
The Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree consists of plenty of games (32) and instruction. Although scores will be kept for the games, no champion will be declared. The public is invited to watch the games at no charge.
“The Urban Initiative Jamboree provides a unique opportunity for children who would not normally have the means to participate,” David James, director of the Urban Initiative, said. “The coaches and families will experience the friendship and celebration that all-star players enjoy during the Little League World Series, while the players will get the chance to play on the same fields where Little League’s world champion is crowned, and where the program started.”
Each of the Jamboree teams are being housed for three nights, and provided meals, in the Dr. Creighton J. Hale International Grove, where Little League Baseball World Series teams live for two weeks each August.
The Little League Urban Initiative has seen success in more than 85 U.S. cities since it began in 2000. In the past year, Lemon Grove Little League and Encanto Little League near San Diego; Neartown Little League in Houston; Culver Marina Little League in Los Angeles; and South Side Little League in Chicago were among several leagues that received funding and assistance through the Little League Urban Initiative. Currently, more than 200 local Little Leagues in the U.S. are part of the Urban Initiative. Through 2006, the program stimulated the addition of 2,779 teams and 33,000 players.
The Major Leaguers who have made financial contributions to the Torii Hunter Project, are Mr. Hunter’s teammates Rondell White and Shannon Stewart, along with Derrek Lee and Jacque Jones of the Chicago Cubs, the Baltimore Orioles’ LaTroy Hawkins, Ken Griffey, Jr., of the Cincinnati Reds, the Florida Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis, Joey Gathright of the Kansas City Royals, and former Little League Baseball World Series player and current Detroit Tiger, Gary Sheffield.
To view photos from the 2007 Urban Initiative Jamboree, Click Here.