by Confederation of European Baseball, www.baseballeurope.com
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – FRANKFURT, Germany – Little League Baseball has been played outside of the United States since the 1940s, but it has been only within the last 25 years that the children of Europe have truly enjoyed the chance to play the game founded in Williamsport, Pa., by Carl Stotz.
In the 1980s, Glasnost and the fall of the Iron Curtain, created an avenue for Western influences to build inroads across Europe, and Little League Baseball embraced that opportunity by fostering a respectful and appreciative relationship with countries across the continent.
The Confederation of European Baseball (CEB), the governing body for national baseball federations in Europe, through the tireless efforts of its President, Martin Miller, have forged a bond with Little League Baseball and Softball that will make the dream of native European children playing Little League a reality beginning with the first pitch of the 2008 season.
“We are delighted that the Confederation of European Baseball has chosen Little League as its exclusive youth baseball development program,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “Patrick Wilson, Vice President of Operations for Little League International, and Beata Kaszuba, Director of the Europe, Middle East and Africa Region, have been working closely with Mr. Miller, and the CEB for nearly three years on this, and we are pleased to have reached an agreement that will benefit so many children.”
The number of players the agreement will bring to the Little League program is unclear as yet, but is thought to be thousands in the 39 countries of the CEB. Currently, Little League programs are operating in more than 20 European nations. Many of those, however, are primarily composed of the children of U.S. citizens living abroad.
“To reach this level of cooperation with the world’s largest youth sports organization is very significant to the future growth of baseball in Europe,” Mr. Miller said. “For our two organizations to develop parallel programs in Europe was not practical, and certainly would not be in the best interests of the children. It is better to combine forces for maximum output and success.”
The agreement opens Little League’s extensive array of training aids, clinics and seminars to players and volunteers throughout the continent. For the time being, it is limited to players 12 years old and below.
“Mr. Miller has shown an unwavering commitment to Little League’s ideals,” Mr. Wilson said. “His leadership and belief in the role our program can play in the lives of children throughout Europe are a testament to his convictions and speaks highly of the CEB’s commitment to the providing an organized and well-run youth sports experience.”
Through the support of Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit organization that has partnered with Little league International to provide gently used baseball and softball equipment to charter leagues, and Wilson Sporting Goods, a Little League corporate sponsor, Little League Baseball and Softball will donate playing equipment to the CEB.
“We are looking forward to using the knowledge base and background of Little League,” Mr. Miller said. “The Little League clinics for players, coaches, umpires and organizers will be of great help to CEB member countries and the European children living in them.”
Mr. Miller, a resident of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, visited the U.S. to see Little Leaguers in action. He and his family were guests of Little League International at the 2005 Little League Baseball World Series, and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the first international game of the tournament between teams from Guam and Russia.
A month later, Mr. Wilson visited Munich for meetings with Mr. Miller and other CEB officials from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. In February 2006, Mr. Wilson traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, to make a formal presentation to CEB members. One day later, the CEB executive committee voted to approve the move, and the CEB signed a letter of intent with Little League International to organize, and eventually charter, Little League programs in each CEB country.
“We’ve had international teams in the Little League Baseball World Series since the 1950s,” Mr. Wilson said. “But with baseball receiving an even greater international presence, organizers in Europe want to receive better training, and Little League will work extensively with the CEB to provide it.”
One of the first benefits of the program is access to a training video for coaches in Poland. The video, underwritten by the Copernicus Foundation, was filmed in 2006 at the Little League European Leadership Training Center in Kutno, Poland. The video, produced in Polish, provides novice coaches the training they need to teach the game to young children, and was distributed at no cost to chartered Little League programs throughout the country.
Little League teams throughout Europe also will have the opportunity to participate in the 2008 Little League International Tournament this summer. The 2008 Little League Baseball World Series, to be played Aug. 15-24 in Williamsport, Pa., will feature a European representative, while a separate region champion will represent the Middle East and Africa Region.
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.7 million players and one million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries. For more information, visit Little League online at www.littleleague.org.