Thursday, August 25, 2016

Past and Present Converge in Historic Crossover Game on Original World Series Field

Photo courtesy of Little League Baseball®
By Nick Richardson
Every child who plays Little League Baseball® dreams of one day playing at the Little League World Series. The sight of a game being played at Howard J. Lamade Stadium is synonymous with the history of excellence and tradition of the game.

But the roots of today’s game lie at a noticeably smaller park about six miles away. On Thursday morning, the teams from the Japan and Northwest Regions paid tribute to that legacy when they played a game at Carl E. Stotz Field, the site of the first-ever Little League World Series in 1947, and the home of the tournament for the first 11 of its existence.
The Little League Baseball World Series is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this summer.
While Stotz Field has invited World Series teams play on this special field since the tournament moved across the Susquehanna River, this marked the first time since the teams from Monterrey, Mexico won back-to-back Championships in 1957 and 1958 that Little Leaguers from outside of the United States had taken the field.
Original League President Jim McKinney helped put the game together, and was overcome with emotion when considering its historical significance. “This is history,” said a visibly choked-up Mr. McKinney. “It’s unique thing that’s happening here.”
Mr. McKinney said the whole thing came together in less than 24 hours, and added that he was hesitant to believe it at first, trying not to give himself false hope.
“Once we got the ok, I was out here at six in the morning trimming the grass, trying to spruce up the field,” said Mr. McKinney.
Carl E. Stotz Field is also home to a small, but notable museum, housing artifacts from past World Series such as pins, caps, and team photos. On this day, it also held within its walls the last two surviving members of the first-ever Little League team that played under Carl Stotz himself in 1939. Al “Sonny” Yearick and Bill Bair were present to greet their modern day counterparts and their coaches, offering some baseball wisdom.
“You still gotta throw the ball hard, you still gotta play hard,” said Mr. Yearick, who also holds the distinction of being the first Little League graduate to be offered a Major League contract, receiving an offer to play for the old Boston Braves.
After getting a quick history lesson from Mr. McKinney, both teams took the field, warming up like they would for every game, doing stretches, tossing the ball, and reciting the Little League pledge. After playing their past few games in front of the large crowds at Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums, the players were treated to an audience of no more than 100 or so, a collection of fans young and old who came by to witness the game.
You couldn’t tell that this was a simple exhibition game; both teams gave their all from the first pitch. Japan finished with a 10-0 victory, though the score was secondary to the experience itself. After the game, both teams posed for a group photo, with players and coaches swapping hats and exchanging congratulations on each other’s tremendous summer of baseball.
After embracing his family and his players, Northwest Coach Al Ullman took a moment to consider the experience his team had just gotten to enjoy.
“I don’t think this has quite sunk in for the boys yet,” said Coach Ullman. “In 10 years or so, they’re going to look back on this game and realize that they got to play on this field, against a team from Japan of all places. This is something that 99.9 percent of people don’t get to do.”
Before making his way off the field, Coach Ullman took an empty water bottle out to the pitcher’s mound and began filling it with dirt, then proceeded to do the same with dirt from home plate. Coach Ullman also has a glove filled up with dirt from Lamade Stadium. He says that both will serve as mementos of his team’s experience in Williamsport.
No matter what fields these players and coaches may step on in the future, they will always be able to look back on this day and these past two weeks and realize just how unique of an experience it truly was.