Throughout the course of 2019, the Little League® program continued to find ways to deliver increased levels of excitement, new opportunities, and countless memories for thousands of communities around the world.
Highlighting this past year’s events was the continued efforts to grow the game throughout the Little League program, both at the local level and at the Little League Baseball® and Little League Softball® Tournaments. In March, Little League expanded its international reach by aligning with the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) to bring Little League to the CBF’s approximately 170 local baseball programs. In addition to welcoming Cuba to the program, the Little League International Board of Directors announced the approval to expand the number of teams at both the Little League Baseball and Little League Softball World Series in 2021, providing the World Series experience to more children around the world. Along with the expansion comes a $15 million commitment to enhancing the facilities throughout the complex at both locations, a project that immediately began following the conclusion of the 2019 Little League Baseball World Series.
In addition to the continued growth of the World Series, all seven World Series events also were provided with a new, modern uniform design in 2019 as adidas became the official uniform, footwear and coaches apparel supplier for the Little League World Series (LLWS). Along with the new uniform and apparel provided to all participants, adidas focused their first-year efforts on providing a unique and memorable experience for all the participants at both the Little League Baseball World Series (LLBWS) and the Little League Softball World Series (LLSWS) with a dedicated players’ lounge, as well as on-site activities that included karaoke night for the players in Portland and an opportunity for the LLBWS players to create and sign custom cleats for some of their favorite professional baseball players.
The Little League International Tournament also experienced new heights in 2019 as every game in each of the seven divisions of the Little League® World Series was covered live on the ESPN networks and streaming services for the first time ever. A total of 345 Little League Baseball and Softball World Series and Regional tournament games were aired live over the course of the summer (up from 231 games televised in 2018), with 263 airing exclusively on ESPN+, the direct-to-consumer sports streaming service. In addition, for the third-straight year, the entire Little League Baseball Canada Region tournament was made available through CBC Sports, bringing the total number of Little League games aired live up to 369 in 2019.
The relationship with Major League Baseball also continued to grow in 2019 with the growth of Little League Days at MLB ballparks, and the hosting of the third MLB Little League Classic between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. That tradition that will continue in 2020 with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles visiting the Little League Baseball World Series for the fourth Little League Classic.
One of Little League’s newest sponsors, T-Mobile (the Official Wireless Sponsor of Little League), made an immediate impact at the local level in 2019, providing $100,000 in financial support to local leagues in Puerto Rico working to rebuild from the 2017 hurricanes. In addition, they were able to launch a brand-new, unique opportunity for local Little Leaguers® with the T-Mobile Little League Home Run Derby, a competition starting at the local league level before advancing to two Regional Events at MLB ballparks and ultimately the championship event at Historic Bowman Field during the Little League Baseball World Series. In celebration of the home runs hit at both the MLB Home Run Derby and Little League Home Run Derby, T-Mobile donated an additional $1 million to help make the program more accessible to local Little League families. The partnership with T-Mobile also marked the first as part of the new Joint Sponsorship Agreement with Major League Baseball, established in 2019 to collaboratively oversee Little League Baseball and Softball’s official sponsor program.
A major focus in 2019 was also to provide continued support and education of all the Little League volunteers and parents through the use of webinars, increased capabilities in the Data Center, additional technological resources for local leagues, the launch of a Little League Rulebook App, addition of skills and drills videos, and the establishment of the umpire registry. Those education efforts will also continue through the early part of 2020 with its Regional Roundtables across the United States as Little League International looks to take in valuable input from its highest level volunteers. In addition to the educational efforts, Little League continued to enhance its Grow the Game Grant program and work together with its Official Sponsors to offer support through grants and other initiatives at the local level.
Little League also strengthened its Child Protection Program in 2019 with the addition of resources and training centered around the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act of 2017, better known as “SafeSport.” In addition, the organization saw a record number of background checks processed in 2019 with 348,000, and reached a program-high 94% participation in the A Safety Awareness Program (ASAP).
Throughout the year, Little League also made it a point to recognize the tremendous individuals that make the Little League program what it is today. Highlighting that recognition was the launch of the Girls with Game campaign, a relevant, female-oriented initiative focused on the continued celebration of the memorable moments, exciting events, and inspiring individuals throughout the Little League program. Little League also recognized its 2019 Little League award winners, enshrined Austin Dillon and Heather Tarr into the Little League Hall of Excellence, and named Mike and Gretchen Piscotty the 2019 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year.
This year also saw incredible success from its Little League alumni who earned achievements at the highest level with five of the six National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees receiving their bronze plaque in July, highlighted by Little League International Board of Directors member, Mike Mussina, and Hall of Excellence Enshrinee, Mariano Rivera. Along with the five Hall of Famers, more than 20 Major Leaguers received postseason awards, a number of former Little Leaguer Softball Players competed at the highest level at the Women’s College World Series, softball standout Rachel Garcia won the 2019 Honda Cup, and numerous high school graduates took home the hardware with the Gatorade Player of the Year awards at the ESPYs.
While it was an exciting year for the organization overall, Little League was sad to say goodbye to some important friends and dedicated volunteers in 2019, but remain excited for the future of Little League Baseball and Softball. Thank you to all the Little League volunteers, partners, and staff for all the hard work that has made this past year so memorable, and for your continued dedication and support to making the future even more memorable.