LLWS to expand by 4 teams, facilities to undergo $15 million renovation

The Little League Baseball and Little League Softball World Series will expand beginning in 2021, and the Little League complex in South Williamsport is going to undergo a $15 million facelift, Little League President and CEO Stephen Keener announced at a press conference Saturday.

Following unanimous approval during Friday’s Board of Directors meeting, Little League International made the announcement Saturday morning prior to the International and United States championship games at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Keener said the announcement was made so quickly because demolition and construction on a new merchandise building, new parking and upgrade concessions will begin next week in order to be completed for the 2021 World Series.

Also included in the facility upgrades is a new dormitory to house the four new teams which will quality for the tournament, new laundry facilities and a new infirmary. The $15 million is being funded by Little League Baseball through a reserve fund it has built up over recent years. Keener said there will not be a fundraising plan to come up with the money needed for the upgrades. And currently, there are no plans to use any public money through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program

Keener said it has not yet been determined whether the current concession stands will merely be upgraded or demolished and rebuilt. But the $15 million cost estimate includes both options. Neither Lamade nor Volunteer Stadiums will be receiving significant upgrades. New playing surfaces were installed on each field within the last two years.

“Probably two or three years ago we started having discussions about could we accommodate 20 teams and what kind of physical facilities would we need to do it,” Keener said. “Then we looked at the regional alignments and how we could get four new teams. But in the last two or three years is when we’ve really talked about this.”

The expansion of the Little League Baseball World Series means two teams will be added to the United States field and two will be added to the international field. The Mid-Atlantic and New England regionals will be divided up to include a new Metro region, which will include New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The West and Northwest Regions have been divided up to form a Mountain region which includes Nevada, Montana, Idaho and Utah.

On the International side, three countries will rotate two automatic entries into the field. Panama, Puerto Rico and Cuba will gain two automatic qualifying spots on a rotating basis into the Little League World Series. During next year’s tournament draw, it will be decided which two teams will gain the initial automatic entries. The third team which does not receive an automatic berth can still qualify through the Caribbean tournament.

The additional teams in the tournament will force Little League to begin the World Series one day earlier. Keener said four games will likely be played from Wednesday to Wednesday, and Volunteer Stadium will be used more than it currently is.

The Little League Softball World Series will grow by two teams, both of which will come in the United States field. The East Region, which this season was represented by the South Williamsport Little League, will be divided into the New England and Mid-Atlantic Regions. The West Region is going to be divided into the Northwest and West Regions.

“As the governing body of the largest youth sports organization in the world, it’s our duty and our responsibility to grow the organization,” said Hugh Tanner, the Chairman of the Little League Board of Directors. “We take it very seriously to study and grow the game and we spent a great deal of time studying how to expand the World Series and how important that would be. We’re really pleased as a board to approve this first step.”

You can read more about the expansion of the Little League World Series in Sunday’s edition of the Sun-Gazette.