Pinning down Williamsport
Forget about your purses and jewelry, just don’t forget to lock up your pins. Because at the Little League World Series, no pin is safe, and a baseball isn’t the only thing held sacred.


By Allie Weinberger

Keep your money.

Keep your food, your hats, your programs and your autographs.

It doesn’t matter who you are. They just want your pins.

Who, you ask?

Everyone.

Little League Baseball World Series pins are worth their weight in gold here at the PA P.E. That’s right, it’s the (unofficial) Pennsylvania Pin Exchange right here in South Williamsport. And it’s not just for the kids.

“My brother and I, we were into Little League coaching and Little League board and we just started in the pins craze because everybody was doing it,” said Clark County, Virginia’s Terry Carroll, who has been trading pins at the Series for the past eight years with his wife and son. “Been doing it ever since.”

The pin trading system here at the Little League World Series is rooted in an Olympic tradition started in Athens, Greece in 1896.

These “pins” actually got their start as badges used to identify and separate officials and athletes. But in 1906, the first true pin – in the colors of the Swedes – made its debut.

It wasn’t until 1924 that athletes began exchanging pins as a sign of international camaraderie, and through the 1970s, trading of these small signs of friendship was restricted to athletes and officials.

The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York marked the beginning of pin trading en masse. It allowed spectators and collectors alike to participate in the international togetherness for which the Olympic Games stood.

Now, Little League fans around the world just can’t get enough.

“I never had a pin until four years ago when I came here and saw the pin trading,” said Matt Flint, a New York native who has traveled to Williamsport for the past five Series. “I thought it would be neat and got into it. Now I have probably 5,000 pins.”

Kids, players and spectators can always be found in the pin tent, which serves as the main arena to facilitate trading. The large white tent is located between Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadium, and it is hopping with traders, who are busy admiring collections and making deals.
Ask the Experts:
Four simple steps to Leblanc (and Kriner) luck

So you’ve never traded pins before, have you? Well, pay attention. Pin Master Tanner Leblanc and his apprentice Corey Kriner will tell you all you need to know about getting the right pin.

Step 1. Approach the trader.
Leblanc: You ask them, “You wanna trade?”

Step 2. Survey the goods.
Kriner: You ask them what they want to give ya, and then they’ll show you.

Step 3. Make a decision.
Kriner: If you don’t like any of them, you’ll say…
Kriner (to Leblanc): Umm, what do you say?
Leblanc: Nah, I don’t wanna trade.
Kriner: Yeah, you say I don’t wanna trade.

Step 4. Move on.
Kriner: Then, you can go find somebody else.

Kriner and Leblanc will return to the Little League World Series on Wednesday to trade more pins, but don’t expect to find them glued to the pin tent. After all, the boys will be watching some baseball, too.

Who do they want to see go all the way in Williamsport?

“Russia,” said Kriner.

“Because Russia always wins,” added Leblanc.

“Yeah, [we go] all the time,” said Davenport, Iowa player Chase Pfab. “Before the trading tent started we used to trade a lot in [the International Grove]. Now the trading tent started, so we trade a lot down there.”

Pfab said he started didn’t start trading until his regional tournament August 4 - 13 in Indianapolis.

“Everybody wants the [Snickers] cleat pins,” said Pfab. “And they’ll trade, like, 10 pins for them.”

Each year, Snickers designs a new pin, and produces a set specific to each team. This year, it’s the cleats. Then, the kids are given all the pins to trade among themselves and try to assemble a complete set.

Pfab, whose favorite pins are his quartet of tigers from a Little League team in Wisconsin, has all 16.

But there are pin collectors who come to the Little League World Series in search of certain pins, and sometimes things get ugly.

“Sometimes it is [cutthroat],” said Carroll. “But overall, they’re good pin traders. Everybody tries to get along.

“Once in awhile you’ll have a bad egg in the bunch, as they say, but he kinda senses that nobody wants to trade with him and he’ll either straighten up or he’ll go on,” he added.

Luckily, Carroll said there are no bad eggs yet this year.

In fact, many of the adults who come to Williamsport support the young traders.

“I didn’t realize how involved [trading] was,” said Heather Shnyder, mother of rookie pin trader Corey Kriner. “I didn’t realize the people that are into this – the kids all the way up to the retired folks.

“It’s amazing how all the people say ‘Oh, is this his first time? Well here, we’ll give him a couple extra pins so he can get started,’” she continued. “And they’re trying to coach him along as to which ones are a little bit more valuable than the others, and which ones might be more in demand than others.”

But adults aren’t the only experts on the going rate in Williamsport.

Eight-year-old Tanner Leblanc has been in the business of pin trading for half his life, and it’s his friend Corey Kriner’s first day.

“[Tanner]’s been teaching me how to do it,” said Kriner. “And probably by the end of the day I’ll have 50 or more.”

How many does the nine-year-old have now?

“Too many to count,” he said. “I have a lot of favorites, but there’s two I’m not trading.”

Those two are a small gold Devil Rays pin and an American flag pin with the words “Rockland County” across the bottom, so traders beware. Those are Kriner Keepers.

“I don’t really know why [they are my favorites], but they are really special to me, in a way,” said Kriner.

Leblanc’s favorite pin was hiding in his pocket. “Canfield Baseball, Ohio,” it says.

Neither boy is from the district his favorite pin represents. Both are from neighboring Montgomery, PA.

But it’s Leblanc, a four-year veteran of the Pennsylvania Pin Exchange, who is the pin trading master (see sidebar).

“Most of the people – if it’s your first time – you go up to one of those guys over there and they’ll give you some free ones,” said Kriner. “It’s really fun, once you get the hang of it.”

It’s “those guys over there” who are the bloodline of the pin trading system. Almost all of them want to help.

“Every situation is different,” said Carroll. “Some kids just starting out, they may not have very good pins. But you trade with them anyway because you gotta remember you were there one time yourself.

“When you got started, people treated you good, so you gotta treat other people good,” he explained. “And that’s where you gotta explain to kids, say, ‘Hey, be nice and people will trade with you. If you’re mean and nasty, nobody’ll trade with you.’”

Carroll isn’t the only one who’s in it for the kids.

Rick Lumbard is a hometown trader who has come to the Little League World Series for nine years to trade pins.

“My kids got me into it,” Lumbard said. “We live right up the road, so we’re here every year.”

Lumbard sits just outside the pin tent with a little wooden table and a folding chair to escape the hustle and bustle of the other traders. A purple cloth bag hangs under the table, waiting to keep his bartered daily prizes safe and out of reach.

“I don’t have anything as major as some of these people do,” he said. “But I’m always here and the kids are always trading.”

It doesn’t matter to Lumbard what kind of pins he trades for, either.

“It’s just a piece of metal,” he explained. “There’s some pins you try to collect – the Little League pins over the years, the Snickers pins – everybody’s trying to get the snickers pins. Not me.”

Then there’s Jay Freeman.

Freeman owns the Natural Energy Utility Corporation, a residential utility company, and drives to Williamsport from Kentucky to volunteer his time each year (and this is his 12th) as a Section 1 usher at Lamade Stadium.

Freeman has been making Little League mascot Dugout pins for 10 years now. He has a pin for each of her 13 different costumes.

Between games Monday, he was caught making a trade with another pin fanatic.

“He does Smurfs,” Freeman said of his trading partner. “Then he made a set of frogs, and so I just traded him my 13 pins for his eight pins.”

Freeman designs his pins every year and sends them off to be produced.

“This year, I spent a little over $10,000 on pins,” Freeman said. “I don’t sell ‘em, just trade ‘em. I give them away. Everything in my pocket I give to kids.”

Why would anyone spend so much money, just to give it all away?

“It’s just fun,” he said. “Something else to do here at Little League.”

Though its Freeman’s son who got the pin collection started, the businessman has taken over the hobby in a big way.

“I turned my conference room into corkboard walls, there’s no plaster in the room,” Freeman explains. “When I go back, I give [my secretary] all the pins and she puts them all up on the corkboard so when I have meetings in my conference room, people always say, ‘what’s that?’ And I explain to them that it’s Little League Baseball.”

Freeman created 20 new pins this year and has a collection of more than 10,000. He’ll probably return to his hometown of Ashland, KY with three or four thousand more for his secretary.

So if anyone sees Jay Freeman’s secretary, tell her to start warming up that pushing finger.

“It just really something fun to do, if you wanna know the truth,” Freeman said. “Unfortunately, you have some adults here that make pins that their heart’s not right. They take advantage of the kids, they do.”

Sometimes, the young ballplayers don’t realize the value of their pins. Other times, players are very clear on how precious their “stock” is.

“The hardest team to trade with was three years ago, our Moscow team,” said Freeman. “They knew their Moscow pins had value, so they were very hard to trade with. They would trade one of their pins for three, four or five of your pins. They were very smart – they knew their pins were rare.”

So what are the bylines of the Exchange?

“The rule of thumb I’ve learned in coming up here for eight years is you trade one pin for one pin,” said Carroll. “[But] once in a while, you have your little deals that people make on the side, just like anything else.”

And what do people look for in a pin?

“I just like anything that appeals to me,” said Flint. “It could be Little League affiliated, it could be a cartoon character, whatever. A lot of people here, it’s just Little League pins. They don’t want anything else.”

Some are looking to complete unfinished sets.

“I’m looking for pins to continue the sets that I have,” said Gil Ladouceur, an umpire who annually drives to the Series from Canada. Ladouceur got his first pin in 1978, and he has only missed one year since.

Ladouceur has more than 25,000 pins, which take up all four walls of a room in his LaSalle, Ontario home.

“I’ve got no place to put ‘em,” he said. “My wife says no more walls.”

But pin trading is hugely popular among the Little Leaguers, too, and none of the players lets the language barriers of the international tournament get in the way.

“We use finger signals and all different stuff,” said Iowa’s Ryan Shumaker.

For instance, a two-for-one trade would be indicated by raising two fingers, followed by a fist and then a raised index finger.

“Latin America,” Pfab added, “they say ‘change’ for ‘trade’ and stuff like that. They point at books and say ‘change change.’”

Mexico’s Alejandro Valenzuela trades pins through his bi-lingual teammate, Kevin Garcia.

“I trade them to see what teams were here and what players I could get them from,” said Valenzuela.

He is one of only three Mexico players who trades with other teams, and he has a pin for them all.

“He takes a person who knows how to speak English [to get them],” Garcia said. “Like I’m doing now.”

Freeman, on the other hand, will just give pins away to the kids he can’t communicate with.

“If they give me one [back], fine. If they don’t, fine,” he said.

The P.A.P.E. is nothing to scoff at. The players are all mini-Greenspans and the traders are the buyers and sellers that make the system tick.

And this Little League tradition not only travels far and wide, but transcends through the ages.

Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has kept the pins he collected during his stay at the 1984 Little League World Series through the fame and fortune of winning the Major League Baseball World Series. In a conference call Friday night with the New England Little League champs from Westbrook, Maine, the major league catcher asked if the boys from Maine were still trading.

Of course they are, Jason. Everybody’s doing it.


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