Little League Baseball was founded by Carl Stotz in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1939. He wanted to create an opportunity for young boys to play organized baseball at little or no cost to their families. This was achieved through the gracious donations of team sponsors, who for as little as $30, (in 1939) could provide uniforms and equipment for an entire team. Stotz also stressed the importance of sportsmanship, fair play, and teamwork to the boys in his league. From its beginnings as a three-team league in 1939, Little League Baseball has grown into a worldwide organization with over 200,000 teams in more than 100 countries.
Beginnings in Kalamazoo
The first Little League Baseball game in Kalamazoo was played on 11 June 1955 between Lee's Sports and Warren's Sports. The game was a bit lopsided, with Lee's posting a 9-2 victory, but baseball fans in Kalamazoo were thrilled nonetheless. Over 300 fans turned up to watch the historic game at Milwood School. Pre-game ceremonies included a parade by local Boy Scouts and the Milwood School Band. The ceremonial first pitch featured local sportsmen Neil Barry of the Detroit Tigers and Bob Topp of the New York Giants.
Little League Baseball continued to grow each year as more leagues were formed around the area. Another important year for the Little League was 1974, when for the first time, girls were allowed to play on Little League softball teams. Bud Vanderberg, district administrator for the Kalamazoo area, remembers this as one of the turning points for the Little League in Kalamazoo. Interest was high, and the pilot program of 1974 was a success with over 450 girls in 4 different leagues taking to the diamond in Little League uniforms for the first time.
Softball in Kalamazoo
Since then, at least in Kalamazoo, it could be argued that the girls have surpassed the boys in local Little League action. Since 1980 Kalamazoo has played host to the Little League Softball World Series. Through the efforts of Bud Vanderberg and others, Kalamazoo has become a showcase for some of the most talented young softball players in the world. However, it was a local team from Kalamazoo's own District 2 that won the Big League Division in 2000 and was named world champs on their home field at Vanderberg Park.
Little League in Kalamazoo Today
At present, there are 11 Little Leagues in District 2, serving boys and girls all over greater Kalamazoo. Certainly the most famous graduate of the district is New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter who played Little League ball here in the 1980s. Participation is down slightly in recent years, perhaps as a result of new interest in other sports like soccer. But you can be sure that if you visit any of the fields that host Little League ball around Kalamazoo, you will be in for some good baseball or softball action that is centered on the principles of sportsmanship, fair play, and teamwork that have governed the Little League in Kalamazoo for fifty years.