By Ethan Roy
Few sports can claim to have the international prominence of baseball. From Canada to India to South Korea, and everywhere in between, the sport boasts a global influence and connects the world with the common language of baseball. For many, the introduction to that language comes in Little League®.
Each summer, more than 80 countries can qualify to play in the Little League Baseball® World Series in Williamsport, Pa., but only 16 teams reach the ultimate destination every year. Prior to the Series, Little League hosts five weeks of summer camp for the young athletes around the world – on the very same World Series grounds.
With nine Little Leaguers® from India, one from Canada, and one from Italy, this past week of camp underlined the global reach of not only Little League, but the sport of baseball.
For the international players attending this week’s camp, the experience was as rewarding as it was educational.
Pranav Madhusudhan, a third baseman and pitcher from India, had never been to the United States before this week. When asked about the biggest difference between his experiences playing baseball at home compared to his week at camp, he echoed the sentiment of several of his teammates: “The facilities and the grounds here, we don’t have these grounds back at home.”
“The people here are very nice,” said second baseman and center fielder Dhruv Hemmighe, when describing his week at camp. “The drills taught over here are very different.”
For many of the international campers, the visit to the United States wasn’t their only first-time experience. From the drills, to the coaching, to the talent levels, the baseball camp introduced these young players to a variety of new elements of the worldwide sport.
Chelsea Rose Narabione, a second baseman and one of just two girls at this week’s camp, has only been playing baseball for nine months. Narabione was very blunt about how this camp helped her improve: “I got faster.”
The speed drills presented during camp made a significant impression on the international campers. “The parachuting was something different,” said first baseman Mohnish Vadlamudi of India. “We put the parachute on the belt and then we run.”
Edorrdo Giacobbi, a pitcher from Bologna, Italy, emphasized the differences he noticed at this week’s camp. “The drills are very different here, but the biggest difference is the faster pitching,” he said.
The nuances and details of some skills or exercises can be easy to overlook at times. Looking through the lens of the international players provides an important shift in perspective on some of the elements of baseball that may have grown normalized over time.
Aside from the differences within the sport, the international feel of this week’s camp was not lost on the campers.
“It’s different playing with them,” said Vadlamudi when asked about sharing the diamond with players from other countries. “They have their own styles,” he said.
Dhruv Hemmighe spoke candidly about international gameplay: “It depends. If you gel up well, then it’s easy.”
One camper’s home is right here in Pennsylvania, but his story is equally compelling. Shortstop Max Ilsley was the 2019 recipient of the Robert H. Stirrat Little League Baseball Scholarship. An annual award providing free admission and round-trip transportation to the camp, the Stirrat Scholarship recognizes one essay submission detailing a player’s experience playing Little League.
Ilsley, whose father is suffering from cancer, wrote about how Little League helped him cope and persevere through it. He added that his father inspired him to start playing. “My dad played baseball when he was a kid, so I started playing,” he said. Ilsley began at the age of three.
There are millions of ballplayers around the world, all with drastically diverse degrees of opportunity and privilege. The Little League baseball camp serves as a microcosm of how educational and impactful an opportunity like this can be for an aspiring young athlete, even if it’s just for a week.