For decades, Little League® has found a way to bring people together. Each summer, communities all around the world rally behind their local teams as they strive towards the dream of making it to the Little League World Series, offering support in both moments of heartbreak and triumph.
But, most importantly, local leagues find a way to provide inspiration from those who came before them. A shining example comes from the story of Ken Hubbs, and the inspiration instilled in his namesake by the Ken Hubbs Memorial Little League in Colton, California.
“Our coaches use the Ken Hubbs name as inspiration,” said John Oloteo, incoming League President and Ken Hubbs Little League alumnus. “We pump our players up and tell them that if they put in the hard work and play the game the right way, there is someone that was once in your shoes that made it to the Major League.”
Ken Hubbs first made a splash on the baseball diamond in 1954, when he powered his hometown Lions Club Little League team to a runner-up finish in the Little League Baseball World Series. Mr. Hubbs continued to be a shining star all throughout high school, earning All-State honors in football and basketball while acting as class president and shining on the baseball diamond.
Straight out of high school, Mr. Hubbs signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs, and after a brief stint in the minor leagues, he soon found himself as the Cubs’ starting second baseman. At just 20 years old, Mr. Hubbs put together a then MLB record 78 consecutive errorless innings on his way to NL Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove honors for the 1962 season.
Ken Hubbs was taking Major League Baseball by storm, asserting himself as one of baseball’s best rising superstars. But then, tragedy struck.
In typical Ken Hubbs fashion, he decided to conquer his fear of flying head on by earning his pilot’s license in between the 1963-1964 baseball seasons. While flying himself home from a community-sponsored baseball clinic on a snowy day in Utah, his plane crashed, instantly killing one of the best young players in baseball.
Despite being just 22 years old, Mr. Hubbs had already left a profound impact on the Colton, California, community where he grew up. Known for his kindness and passion, Mr. Hubbs was a frequent attendee at local community and church events. His infectious smile always encouraged children from the area to play ball and experience the magic of Little League.
To honor Mr. Hubbs, Colton High School’s gym took on the hometown hero’s name, and the local Little League that Mr. Hubbs took to Williamsport just 12 years earlier was donned Ken Hubbs Memorial Little League.
Now, more than 50 years after his passing, Ken Hubbs’ name is as alive now as it has ever been, with the local Little League with his namesake giving 160 youth baseball and softball players the opportunity to experience a sport that Mr. Hubbs held so close to his heart.
“Being a part of the Ken Hubbs Little League is a pride thing,” said Mr. Oloteo. “When I played Little League, I was proud to be a part of Ken Hubbs. Some of the best memories from my childhood were either on the field at Ken Hubbs or associated with Ken Hubbs through friends I met and experiences we shared.”
While Ken Hubbs had the opportunity to experience the Little League Baseball World Series and what it was like to play on the game’s biggest stage in the Major Leagues, he always found a way to come back to the community that gave him his start. Today, Ken Hubbs Memorial Little League continues to provide that support for children in their Southern California community and share the eternal legacy of a young star.
NOTE: As the world gears up to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Little League Baseball® World Series (LLBWS) in August 2022, Little League® International will feature content such as this in a series of franchises that highlights some of the key moments, memories, and people that have made the LLBWS one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. For more information, visit LittleLeague.org/75.