New museum spans generations of Little League
Every so often, someone from somewhere else will ask me just how the Little League World Series grew so big.
It’s been friends, relatives, Little League World Series visitors, and even sports editors and reporters from somewhere else. And I tell them that it’s always been this way, even though putting every game on TV and inviting 16 teams is relatively recent.
Famous ex-players and celebrities have come for decades, and the national media has long viewed here as something positive to publicize. One needs to look no further for proof than two exhibits at the new World of Little League, which is its newly expanded museum with a grand opening scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday.
Little League is counting down for another Series, with the 2013 schedule announced on Thursday. And its new attraction is worth the admission for those interested in baseball, Little League, history, or a combination of the three.
One current exhibit features a baseball dignitary, no less than Cy Young himself, who visited a few times until his death in 1955. I’ve long considered his appearances an underrated story angle in Little League’s 75-year history.
On display with a lifesize photo of Young, who would have watched LLWS games at Original Field, is a miniature glove autographed by Young, Yankees broadcaster Red Barber, and Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy during a 1951 visit. Nearby is some LLWS memorabilia from Sam Cooksey, who has recalled eating lunch with Young while a player here in 1953.
So when Wade Boggs, who was born three years after Young died, comes as grand marshall of the Grand Slam parade like he did last year, he’s just part of a long tradition. Same goes for stops by college coaching legends Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim in recent years.
Around the corner from Young is a series of letters from other dignitaries, such as President George W. Bush and Tom Seaver. And at the end is a 1952 letter from Jack O’Brien, sports editor of Newsweek, written to Col. W.H. Wells, Little League’s publicity director.
In it, O’Brien accepts a personal invitation to come cover the Series, and that he looks to work in any “flattering figures” that Wells can provide, such as 1,676 Little Leagues existing at the time.
It didn’t get much bigger than Cy Young meeting with players and Newsweek offering to write a puff piece. ESPN might have perfected some of this in recent years, such as televising phone calls to players from the big leaguers back home, but the network didn’t invent it.
No, the World of Little League showcases a living thing now far older than most of the adults in it and what may well outlive us all.
There’s more to remind everyone how what may seem new is actually old. Today’s players are given the latest baseball equipment from manufacturers, whether their parents are rich enough to afford all of it for their kids, or if their leagues can’t afford any of it to share.
All the players from the Lock Haven team in the late 1940s received bicycles from local townspeople and merchants, wheels that looked like something Henry Huggins might have saved up to buy with his paper route money.
There are other local connections inside, such as Mike Mussina’s Johnny Z’s jersey from Montoursville and Ed Ott’s Murray Motors jersey from Muncy.
And then there’s perhaps the neatest exhibit, a black-and-white lifesize mirrored photo collage of LLB Hall of Excellence enshrinees from their long-ago playing days. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands about 6-foot-3 at age 12, George Will squats about 3-foot-3, and Dick Vitale actually just sits there with his mouth closed.
My only complaint there was enshrinee Bruce Springsteen wasn’t included, but Little League couldn’t locate an old photo to work with. They ever find one, and half of New Jersey might come to pay homage.
Until then, Cy Young more than suffices.
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at email@example.com.