A Place In Time is a regular feature in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, published quarterly by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and available for purchase at ShopPaHeritage.com. A subscription to the magazine is a benefit of membership in the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the PHMC.
Like many boys growing up in the 1930s, the nephews of Williamsport resident Carl E. Stotz (1910-92) were baseball fanatics. After playing countless games of “pitch and catch” with the boys, Stotz promised them that he would develop a game of baseball on a size and scale appropriate for younger players. He kept his promise. In the late summer of 1938, he gathered his nephews and other local boys in Williamsport’s Memorial Park, where he began to experiment with field dimensions for a scaled down version of the game. With folded newspapers representing each base, he took note of the running speed and throwing distance capabilities of the young players. He then determined that his game should have base paths 60 feet in length, rather than the standard 90 feet, and a distance of 46 feet from the pitcher’s mound to home plate, instead of the regular 60 feet, 6 inches. While traditional baseball games last at least nine innings, Stotz realized that was too long and planned his youth games to run only six innings.
With a growing number of local volunteers, Stotz’s “little league” was able to secure donations from local businesses for uniforms and equipment. By 1939 Little League baseball was able to properly field three full teams, which were named for the local donating businesses: Lycoming Dairy, Jumbo Pretzel and Lundy Lumber. That same year, the small corner in Memorial Park where Stotz had developed Little League baseball became a construction site for a massive levee being built along the banks of Lycoming Creek. Without a permanent home, Little League baseball was played throughout Williamsport wherever space was available over the next few years..
By 1942 the Lycoming Creek levee was completed, and Little League was once again able to use the earlier open space in Memorial Park. The towering levee wall at the site did present an obstacle for the creation of a Little League baseball field, but the growing organization was able to use the levee’s tall, sloped wall to their advantage, as it offered the perfect grassy stadium seating for Little League spectators. As Little League attracted more and more young players and spirited fans through the years, the large amount of available seating on the levee proved to be very useful.
From 1942 to 1951 the Little League organization, which was entirely driven by volunteers and donations, constructed what would become the Original Little League Field, starting with the playing field itself. The outfield fence, scorekeeper’s shed, dugouts, bleachers, two-story field house and concession stand eventually followed. As the field grew and evolved, so too did Little League baseball.
Using the model created by Stotz, local leagues all over the country began to appear. In 1947 the first Little League World Series tournament was held to determine a champion among the 17 individual leagues that existed at that time. Approximately 2,500 spectators filled the bleachers and levee wall surrounding the playing field to watch the Maynard Midget League of Williamsport win the first Little League championship. Newsreels, and later television coverage, helped spread the seeds of Little League all over the country and eventually the world. In 1951 a team from Montreal, Canada, became the first international team to participate in the Little League World Series, and in 1957 a team from Monterrey, Mexico, became the first international team to win the championship.
By 1958 the growth and success of Little League baseball became apparent when more than 12,000 spectators attended the Little League World Series. This rapid growth led to the construction of the larger Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, where Little League World Series games have been played since 1959. The Original Little League Field in Memorial Park served as a blueprint for countless other stadiums, fields, sandlots and leagues all over the world. By 2014 there were more than 7,000 chartered leagues worldwide.
Today, annual tournaments for local teams are still held on the historic base paths of the Original Little League Field, and the location has understandably become a source of local pride. In 1995 a Pennsylvania Historical Marker honoring Carl E. Stotz was placed at the Original Little League Field. In 2014 Little League celebrated 75 years of youth baseball and softball, while the Original Little League Field, where it all began with a promise kept, was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
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