Friday, August 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Regions: How International Programs Promote Little League®

By Nick Fathergill
Even though the Latin America and Europe-Africa Regions of Little League® feature dramatically different cultures and backgrounds, they share various similarities in instituting baseball and softball programs for children and communities.

Carlos Pagan, the Director for the Latin America Region, believes in the philosophy that Little League should help mold upstanding citizens rather than simply provide an avenue for baseball success. “We want to tell [children] that Little League is not only fun to play, it’s a way to form good citizens because everybody can play,” said Mr. Pagan.
Even within his own region, though, Pagan admits the different customs lead to difficulties when it comes to instituting programs. “Some speak Spanish, some speak Portuguese, and many have soccer as the number one sport as well,” said Pagan.
Brazil is one of the countries Pagan referred to as not having a strong baseball or softball mindset. Since soccer reigns supreme, it has been slow work to implement Little League on a large scale. However, as time goes by, progress is made. “It’s a country where we’re introducing baseball and softball, and we think it’ll have a lot of leagues in the future,” said Mr. Pagan.
Likewise, the Europe-Africa’s Region is dominated by soccer as well as basketball. Beata Kaszuba-Baker, the Europe-Africa Region Director, knows baseball or softball can’t compete with other sports in throughout Europe. Instead, she tries a different approach.
“It’s very hard to compete with basketball and soccer, because children can turn on the TV and there’s always a game on,” said Mrs. Kaszuba-Baker. “So, we try to promote baseball and softball as a sport where every player can find their own position.” That way, children who want to play multiple sports, or don’t make it in soccer, can join Little League.
Due to competing interests, both Mr. Pagan and Mrs. Kaszuba-Baker do their best to keep parents and potential volunteers informed. For Mr. Pagan, this includes making information available to everybody in his region, regardless of location and language. “We send them the rules in Spanish – it’s a very important thing that we translate information about Little League from English to Spanish,” he said.
In Europe, most people don’t understand the rules of baseball and softball, and parents often experience confusion trying to watch a game. Mrs. Kaszuba-Baker’s approach is to spread knowledge – if more people understand the game, Little League may become more popular. “We try to hand out flyers to promote consciousness, but the baseball and softball culture is not as strong as it is in the U.S.,” she said. “We have to try to show parents they can get involved even if they don’t know the game.”
Keeping the challenges in mind, both directors feel their regions have done a good job of expanding Little League. Mr. Pagan believes nations like Brazil and the Dominican Republic, which had little to no specific baseball systems, have begun to add them at a good rate. Similarly, Mrs. Kaszuba-Baker is happy that Croatia joined Little League this year. In addition to eagerly participating in the Europe-Africa Regional Tournament, the nation has started to develop local leagues.
Going forward, Mr. Pagan’s biggest goal is to make more equipment available for young players. “Baseball is a sport that’s very expensive, and we have some very poor countries in Latin America,” he said.
For Mrs. Kazsuba-Baker, staying the current path is the most important thing. “Our goal is to add a new country every year,” she said. “Once we achieve that, we’ll see.”