By Dave Belisle: Little League® Brings the Joy Out of Our Young People

Dave Belisle

David Belisle has the rare distinction of twice managing teams to the Little League Baseball® World Series. In 2011, and again in 2014, he guided Cumberland (R.I.) American Little League to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Just after his team lost the final game of the 2014 World Series, and unaware to him at the time, Mr. Belisle etched his placed in World Series lore by offering a postgame speech for the ages. He has since joined the ESPN broadcast team, commentating on Little League Baseball Mid-Atlantic and New England Region games. This summer, when the opportunity to play Little League® took on a distinctly more profound meaning, and with the 2020 World Series unable to be played, Mr. Belisle took some time to reflect on what makes Little League and the World Series a unique and special experience.

The Little League World Series is not just about the players’ abilities, its more about their characters. The children all have a beautiful spirit in them, and you strive to find it. It’s not easy. That’s what the speech was aimed at.

Little League embraced us and treated us like big leaguers every day, from the start of the tournament at our local community to the World Series in Williamsport. As we advanced from tournament to tournament, the community spirit captivated me. While we were in Bristol (for the New England Region Tournament), and eventually when we got to Williamsport, it was great to be able to eat with the other teams in the same venue, play games in the rec. hall, and share games with one another. Win or lose, it was an experience of a lifetime.

I learned a lot about myself during those summers. One moment that put the whole World Series experience into perspective and changed my view of what’s important involved my son, James, and came during the 2011 Series.

It was our first game in Williamsport, and we were playing against the eventual World Champs from California (Oceanview Little League from Huntington Beach). We got smoked. They were good. All game long, I was tense and trying to keep the kids motivated and psyched up.

Sometime during the game, ESPN’s cameras found James blowing bubbles with his gum and the shot stayed on him for almost a full inning. I had no idea this was going on. When I got back to the dorm (in the International Grove), I was feeling down, because we got beat. While in my room, the phone rings … It was my mother. She said to me, “James was wonderful … He was on TV blowing bubbles.” Sulking, I tried to explain to her how we lost the game, but all she could talk about was James on TV.

Sure enough, the footage was already all over the Internet. For a team that lost, 11-0, I never saw any group of players so happy and having fun. James was just being a kid and loving the limelight. That’s when I realized I needed to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the scenery. My mom helped me realize that the World Series — kids playing games, meeting other kids from around the world, and having fun — was what it is all about.

Just going to Williamsport as a fan, it’s hard to understand what it takes to get to and be a part of the World Series. Having the opportunity to meet kids from all over the world and competing against the best Little Leaguers in the program is something truly special, and everyone treats you like they were your family member. There is no negativity. Everything is positive, and that was what I loved the most.

Then, you bring in the coverage from ESPN. It could be hard for teams to adjust, but TV shows the public what Little League and the World Series is all about. When telling the stories, ESPN leaves out the professionalism on purpose and brings out the kid in all of us. Whether watching on television or the Internet, from the seats (in Lamade and Volunteer stadiums), or sitting on the iconic hill outside Lamade Stadium, you feel like you’re not just watching the game, you are reliving the memories you shared when you were growing up.

Both of our Cumberland teams were very close because we spent almost two months with each other. We did everything together. As we continued to win, the families and the whole town got involved and supported us.

People want to live in a community that shares and cares like that.

Dave Belisle

When I got back to Williamsport in 2014, I was reminded again about how fortunate I was. Looking back, I was not planning to coach that team. The boys wanted me to coach, but that year was difficult. My son, John, was on the team, but I wanted to be with my wife, Nancy, who was struggling with cancer (Nancy, 50, passed away in February 2015). She wanted me to coach that team, though. That was another moment when I really appreciated what I had in life and realized what Little League had brought to my family. The players’ parents and kids all knew about Nancy’s condition. Still, she surprised us in Williamsport and sent us all the message, including me, that this was a special time to be together and have fun. It was a great, great summer.

No matter what, the game was never more important than the kids. They didn’t just play for me, they brought out all the good things in my life. They reaffirmed how lucky I am to have a family like I have and to be able to coach incredible kids with families that care about them on the biggest stage. That’s how the game should be taught and played.

In the end, World Series, or not, you go play to have fun. After the game, life goes on. That’s the great thing about coaching … win or lose … If you got the kids smiling, feeling good about themselves, and they had a good time and learned something about the game, there it is: Success!”

I was so proud of our team, where we came from, and the family we came to be.

Every summer since, me and my four boys, end up spending time talking about the Road to Williamsport … the venues, the bus rides, the friends they made, the personalities of the kids, etc. Naturally, this time of year brings out the memories. There isn’t a summer week that we are not talking about our memories in Williamsport. It’s amazing how vivid and everlasting those memories are.

The Little League World Series truly is a place where people come together through youthful energy, humor, and smiles. Unfortunately, we don’t have that option right now. We could all use the smiles of these young kids having fun and sharing the little things they do that make us all feel young. The World Series makes us remember that the future is not about us, it is about the kids. Being there or watching the games on TV is great medicine.

The experience is in the trying and competing, but in the end, Little League shows us that once off the field, we are all walking home together, forever.