Summer is famous for hot dogs, apple pie, and baseball.
And this year, Little League Baseball is celebrating its 75th birthday. Carl Stotz founded the organization in 1939 to give young boys the opportunity to learn the game and practice teamwork and sportsmanship.
But today’s Little League is less about fun and more about ferocity. What began with three teams has morphed into an international organization with players in all 50 states and 80 countries. Players range in age from 4-18, and play in seven divisions beginning with tee-ball and ending with big league, which includes players between 15 and 18 years old.
Many Little League teams strive to make the Little League World Series, televised on ESPN and ABC channels. The original World Series featured 11- to 12-year-old players. It’s not uncommon for teams from Japan and Korea to make it to the finals.
The competitive nature of youth baseball has some parents concerned. Reports from Little League Baseball show a decrease in participation since 2008, and a study conducted by Michigan State University showed 3 out of 4 kids drop out of youth sports by age 13.
The fun of the game may have gotten lost in the competition as more parents ask “Did you win?” rather than “Did you have fun?”
Just watch the 2004 PBS documentary Small Ball that follows a Little League team from Aptos, Calif., as it battles for a place in the World Series.
“We’ll win for pizza,” one Aptos player said. If they won the game, the kids would be rewarded with pizza. If they lost, they ate macaroni and cheese.
The kids might be motivated by food, but Little League has become big business for the grownups. ESPN recently paid $60 million for the rights to televise all Little League World Series games through 2022. Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel said Little League finished 2012 with $78.5 million in assets.
“I think the adults might be into it a little too much,” another Aptos player said.