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Small museum preserves historic birthplace of Little League

Sunday, August 10, 2003

By Dan Lewerenz, The Associated Press

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The lights shine brighter on the other side of the river, where the Little League World Series will soon attract tens of thousands of fans and a national television audience. For two weeks in August, South Williamsport becomes the center of the youth baseball world.

But four miles away, on a neatly trimmed diamond near the banks of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, baseball already is in full swing where the Little League World Series began.

This is Original League, the early home of Little League and the child of a schism that developed between Little League founder Carl Stotz and then-president Peter J. McGovern.

Long overlooked as Little League Baseball Incorporated grew into an international force, Original League preserves some of the game's earliest artifacts and still gives children a chance to play on the field where Little League baseball was born.

"It's an opportunity some kids won't ever get," said 12-year-old Brian Zysset, the Loyalsock Township center fielder who hit his first home run July 28 against Jersey Shore-Greater Susquehanna Valley in the Mac McCloskey Tournament. "I really like playing here."

Little League baseball began on June 6, 1939, when Lundy Lumber beat Lycoming Dairy 23-8.

But Stotz literally laid the groundwork a year earlier when, having already conceived of his youth baseball league, asked his nephews, Harold and Games Gehron, and their friends to help him calculate the ideal dimensions for a children's baseball diamond. Stotz spent the rest of the year lining up support for Little League's inaugural season.

What began as a local phenomenon grew until 1947, when Little League held its first national tournament -- the tournament that, three years later, would be called the Little League World Series.

"You see a lot of that history right here," said Jim McKinney, Original League president, while showing off the organization's one-room museum, which includes a jersey from the first Little League game and the stadium's old scoreboard control panel -- thought to control the first remote-operated scoreboard in baseball history.

"It's not just the bats and the hats and the gloves," McKinney said, pointing to photographs show the grandstand packed for Little League games. "These pictures that you see on the wall here are testaments to what this was. For Williamsport, this was a special event."

Through 1958, those tournament games were played on the same field that Stotz and his young assistants drew up. It was there in 1956 that Fred Shapiro, of Delaware Township, N.J., threw the first perfect game at a Little League World Series, and, one year later, where Angel Macias threw the second perfect game, leading Monterey, Mexico, to be the first foreign team to win the series.

But by then, the rift had already developed. Stotz and his supporters, who owned the baseball diamond and stadium, seceded in 1955, bringing a lawsuit over the use of the name Little League. In 1956, a judge ruled that Little League Baseball Inc. owned the name.

An agreement between the two parties allowed Little League to play the World Series on the old site through 1958, but prevented Stotz's organization from using the words Little League in its title.

Original League has continued to sponsor baseball since then, starting the McCloskey Tournament 27 years ago and holding a second tournament for younger players.

During the Little League World Series, Original League opens its museum collection to the public and opens its field -- renowned for its short fence and plentiful home runs -- to kids. Teams from Albany and Schenectady, N.Y., will play exhibition games against Pennsylvania teams this summer.

"This is really neat for them," said Bill Kelly, whose son, Colin, pitches for Loyalsock Township. "To get to play at the birthplace of Little League, a real team game at the birthplace of Little League, to me would be the thrill of a lifetime."

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