Letter from Stephen D. Keener: The Times They Are A-Changin’


“Come gather round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown.”

When Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are a-Changin’” in the mid-1960s, we don’t think he had Little League® on his mind (although his sons Jakob and Sam would play Little League Baseball® in the late 1970s), nor baseball and softball, or really youth organizations at all, yet, 55 years later, the troubadour’s words ring true for us all. The times they are a-changing, and we need to be ready to embrace and lead that change.

As we look ahead to the 80th anniversary of Little League in 2019, we’ve faced countless changes to our organization, from our roots in Williamsport to the growth of baseball and softball in communities all around the globe. These changes have led to expanded opportunities for children, safety innovations on and off the field, and better experiences for players and volunteers.

These past few years, change has been at the forefront of Little League. We’ve instituted a new age determination date for Little League Baseball. We’ve adapted our softball rules to more closely align them with other softball governing bodies and to make it easier for girls to have opportunities to participate in our program. We’ve joined other youth organizations in adopting the USABat performance standard for baseball. We’ve strengthened our tournament mandatory play rule, found ways to broaden our offerings for our youngest Little Leaguers®, and have embraced more technology solutions, with strong support from DICK’S Sporting Goods, to provide resources for our many Little League families and volunteers.

But, change, while necessary, isn’t easy. Earlier this year, I received a letter from a player impacted by the age determination date change. This season, he is league age 16, his league doesn’t have Senior League Baseball, and he was looking at the end of his Little League career. That is a painful letter to receive, and as much as we wish that we could make exceptions for every player and for every change we’ve made, we are committed to improving the Little League program in an ever-evolving world.

We’re certainly not alone. Little League International is pleased to be working with Major League Baseball to find new ways to play baseball and softball, through our own initiatives, as well as MLB’s Hit and Run Baseball initiative. This could lead to fundamental changes our games, just as the 3-point line changed basketball. It won’t be easy, but they could make the games of baseball and softball more fun and accessible for future generations.

Earlier this year, we hosted more than 500 of our valued District Administrators and many of their fellow volunteers at the Little League International Congress in New Orleans. This event is the catalyst for change in our organization, and is where we gather with the goal of charting the future of Little League. This year, we once again worked together to make some improvements to our rules and regulations.

But, perhaps the change that could have had the biggest impact to our organization, providing an easier opportunity for leagues to welcome players from outside league boundaries, fell short in its required amount of support. This change would have been difficult, however, as the leaders of this organization, we sometimes need to make those hard decisions and bear the brunt of those decisions to make our next 80 years as successful as our first 80 years.

We live in an ever-changing society. Little League prides itself in being a community organization, but communities are changing. From family structure and workplace standards to technological advances and communicating and connecting through social media, there is a fundamental shift in the culture of the world. The Little League program of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, cannot thrive in the 21st Century. That doesn’t mean that what our program offers is any less important today as it was 30 years ago, but to stay a community organization, we need to change as fast as the communities we support.

As you enjoy these tournament games, I ask you to think about change. Open your mind to new ideas and opportunities. Work with your fellow parents and Little League volunteers to bring change to your community. Welcome new opinions, new ideas, and new ways of thinking about Little League. I can promise you, that the dedicated staff at Little League International, as well as our Board of Directors, are going to be thinking, preparing, and initiating change for our organization.

“You better start swimmin’, or you’ll sink like a stone. The times they are a-changin’.”