The scene at Lynndale Park in Lynnwood couldn’t help but spark my mind to attention.
To my right, a large group of baseball players and coaches stood in a wide circle in to outfield of the main baseball diamond, excitedly swapping stories — with boisterous bursts of laughter erupting constantly.
To my left, a crowd of parents gathered against the fence along foul territory in left field, chatting amongst themselves and snapping photographs of the scene on the field.
These were the players, coaches and parents of the 2014 Pacific Little League all-star team that advanced to the Little League World Series. The group had gathered on a Saturday afternoon for an ad-hoc five-year reunion, and I was there to report on it.
And in the moments between interviewing the players one by one, a vivid thought leaped into my mind:
Little League is a great community builder.
My colleague, Josh Horton, wrote a story about Little League’s numbers and how they indicate declining participation, a development that makes me sad, but is perhaps inevitable.
But watching everyone that Saturday afternoon, it was obvious just how much of a community had formed from Pacific Little League’s lengthy romp through the summer of 2014. It’s been five years since that team made it’s way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The players no longer have the same access to one another. They’re now juniors and seniors spread across four different high schools, and they don’t all play for the same baseball team — heck some no longer play baseball at all.
Yet here they were, all 13 players in attendance on just a couple days’ notice. They have lives independent of baseball now, their interests diverging as they enter a new stage of life — several of the players are taking a big step as they graduate from high school this spring. But they were still able to come together and revel in their shared history.
The scene was heartening, and it made me hearken back to my own Little League days and the positive associations I have with that period of my life. Little League opened up a whole new world for me. Before Little League my friends were my classmates at school. Being a member of Food Giant of North Central Seattle opened up my social circle, letting me meet kids I otherwise never would have encountered. It helped me build a larger, deeper and more diverse community than I ever had before.
My 12-year-old all-star team was nowhere near as successful as the Pacific Little Leaguers, and we certainly never spent an entire month joined at the hip as we crisscrossed the country the way that team did in 2014. Yet if someone were to arrange a reunion of my team I’d be there in a heartbeat, eager to catch up with my former teammates and coaches and reminisce about our days on the field together.
It’s not just the players who find community, either. I had the chance to chat with several of the Pacific Little League parents, and they talked about the bond they formed as they followed their children on their wild ride to Williamsport.
Then there are the coaches. Robley Corsi Jr., who was the head coach of the Pacific Little League team, relayed an anecdote about angling to be the coach. He was asked if he’d be able to work with Eric Grant, a fellow coach in the league who also wanted to coach the all-stars. Corsi had butted heads with Grant over the years as opposing coaches, and Corsi wasn’t interested in sharing a dugout with him. But the two decided to give it a try, the partnership worked better than anyone could have anticipated, and now they’re the best of friends.
This community building is one of my favorite aspects of youth sports, the way it brings together people who probably would never find one another any other way.
I sense that aspect of youth sports may be fading a bit as people take it more seriously, and the Little League participation numbers reinforce that idea. Youth sports have become a professional industry, and there’s more of push to specialize. That places a greater onus on results, not to mention a higher financial strain on family budgets.
But Little League, particularly on the shorter bases, seems to precede players being pushed into the youth sports industrial complex. That provides a little more room for community to grow.
“I think it’s absolutely phenomenal that we got all 13 players here,” Corsi said. “All of us were out there giggling and laughing, and they’re telling me all the stuff that they didn’t want to tell me back then.
“Most of these guys, that’s going to be the highlight of their athletic career, and they were 12 or 13 years old,” Corsi continued. “So when they get together it’s just incredible to be around.”
I feel fortunate I was given the opportunity to bear witness to Pacific Little League’s reunion. I feel fortunate to have my own fond Little League memories to cherish. And I feel especially grateful for the communities Little League helps build.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.