Luncheon honors pair of original players

On Wednesday, the annual Little League Baseball World Series Luncheon was held at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport.

As the first of many events leading up to the Little League World Series, the luncheon celebrated Little League’s 75th anniversary and was used to hold the random draw for the team host assignments and first-round game pairings.

Helping with the random selection of game pairings, were two original players from the first Little League season in 1939, Bill Bair and Dick Hauser.

Bair, who played for Lycoming Dairy in his days as a Little Leaguer, still remembers the day when a bright-eyed Carl Stotz walked into one of his Sunday school classes and asked the boys in the room if they were interested in joining the baseball program he was putting together for that summer.

“He came in all dressed up with a big smile on his face, and he talked to us and said that if we were interested we should show up on a certain night for practice,” Bair said. “So naturally all of us boys did.”

“But I would not have believed that Little League would grow into what it is today. This is beyond my imagination.”

Before joining Stotz’s experimental league, Bair and his friends usually played baseball with an old ball covered in friction tape and broken wooden bats that players from the Eastern League at Bowman Field would give them, which they nailed back together.

Bair said that the chance to play on an organized team with real equipment was a true thrill for him, but his favorite part of playing Little League was the relationships he developed with his teammates and opponents.

“I was friends with the guys on our team and the guys on the other teams, and we maintained those friendships for years,” he said. “I think that is my best memory of it.”

Stephen Keener, Little League’s president and CEO, mentioned the organization has planned several special events to commemorate its diamond anniversary, the first of which started last Thursday, when the Empire State Building was lit in honor of the league’s birthday.

Keener added Little League will be honored by Major League Baseball at the All-Star game in Minneapolis on July 15 and at a concert for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which is also celebrating its 75th year. The concert is scheduled for Aug. 2, at the Clark Sports Center, and will feature live music from the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Additionally, the league looks forward to unveiling its official anniversary artwork, which was created by accomplished 3-D pop artist Charles Fazzino.

Fazzino, who is also the official artist for the MLB and NFL, would only work on the Little League artwork on the condition that he would be able to host an art workshop for local students, and talk to them about the importance of art. He was granted that wish by the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania, when he spoke with 1,300 fifth graders from Lycoming and Sullivan County at the Community Arts Center, from Feb. 25-27.

Of the students that Fazzino spoke to, he chose 30 to work hand-in-hand with him in creating the anniversary artwork. The pieces they created will become a permanent exhibition at the “World of Little League”.

“It really is a terrific project,” Keener said. “We are really anxious to see it come to fruition.”

Keener also announced Little League has recently established the Carl E. Stotz Little League Community Award, which is an annual award eligible to all 7,500 Little League programs around the world and is accompanied by a $5,000 grant.

“When Carl founded the program, one of the things he found out very quickly was that this baseball program could really become an asset to the community, and that it would be a place where families would gather to watch their kids play and that Little League could enhance the quality of life in a community,” Keener said. “We have created this award in that spirit.”

“We wanted to do something that would help perpetuate Carl Stotz’s memory beyond the boarders of Lycoming County.”

Little League didn’t have to look too far to find a winner for it’s inaugural Community Award, as it was given to the South Williamsport Little League, which was chartered in 1948.

Keener said the South Williamsport Little League has provided kids in its neighborhood with all of the experiences that Mr. Stotz envisioned and that the community’s dedication to program was made even more evident in 2011 when they committed to a $170,000 renovation of Lions Field.

“In just one year, the community came together and not only raised the funds for renovations, but they put a lot of sweat-equity into it as well,” Keener said. “And it has become one of the nicest Little League fields in the country in terms of its beauty. It truly is a treasure.

“I think that is what Carl Stotz had in mind when he saw the value of this program.”

Dave Geise, vice president of South Little League, said that the renovations made to the field included the building of a new fence, new dugouts and revamped drainage.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much this means to everyone,” Geise said. “This is incredible because we are very proud of our field, and the community really came together on this.”

He said that with grant money from the Community Award he would like to start a fund for lighting at the field.