By Robin Van Auken
The Wholehearted Author
Lance Van Auken is probably the world’s foremost expert on the history of Little League Baseball. There’s only a handful of people who may know more, or as much, as Lance. He earned this honor by being a Little League volunteer, and employee, for most of his life. He shares this knowledge as the co-author of “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball®.”
He attended his first Little League game as a baby in his mother’s arms, as his father coached his four older brothers at Cross Bayou Little League in Seminole (now Largo), Florida. His family was devoted to Little League, and the field there is still named for his father, Robert Van Auken. His mother, Ruth, helped in the concession stand, helped by designing the program covers. His brothers, Joel, Harry, Danny and Calvin, were his role models, and he learned how to pitch and catch and hit, but more importantly, he learned the rules of Little League.
Knowing those rules became significant and when he became too old to play ball, he umpired the game. On July 22, 1981, he became a father and his dream of becoming a manager of his son’s team became a possibility. He managed or coached or supported his son, Lance II, through all levels of Little League, from Tee Ball to Big League, sharing his love of the game. His daughter, Sarah, attended games and helped her family as a volunteer, but playing baseball wasn’t her hobby. A reader, an artist and a musician, she did perform with her school band at a Little League World Series.
He had a chance to visit he Little League Baseball World Series in 1991, as a journalist, covering a Florida baseball team who made it through the Southern Region to the championship game. In 1992, he returned as an umpire, selected to participate in the series representing the Southern Region as a volunteer. He was smitten.
The next year, he became an employee of Little League Baseball, working as an assistant director of the Southern Region, before joining the headquarters staff in Pennsylvania in 1996. He worked in the communications department for two decades, and had many adventures, including developing Tee Ball on the South Lawn, a program that placed Little Leaguers and their families at the White House, playing 20 games for President George W. Bush.
Today, Lance is a vice president of Little League Baseball® and the executive director of the World of Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He, and his co-author (Robin Van Auken), are republishing their book “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball®” with Wendy Dean Butler of The Omnibus Publishing, with a new chapter and an updated appendix.
Fans of Little League Baseball can look for “Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball®” in the spring of 2018.
“‘Play Ball!’ is a delightful walk down the storied history of Little League Baseball. For those of us who played the dreams of your youth, it brings back mighty memories. For those of us reluctant adults who still dream, it’s a wonderful reminder of what might have been.” ~ John Grisham, bestselling author
“Little League Baseball was such a huge part of my life. As a kid and as a father, the memories are, in fact, so thick that I have to brush them away from my face. Thank God for Little League Baseball and how it’s managed itself.” ~ Kevin Costner, actor, director
“It’s funny: after 40 years, I can’t remember much else about a lot of the boys I grew up with, but if you give me one of their names, I can usually remember what Little League team he played on.” ~ Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist
Play Ball! is the remarkable story of Little League Baseball, from the first diamond in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to the playing fields of Venezuela, Japan, and Poland.
On any given spring evening, 360,000 children around the world can be found on the dusty mounds and grassy fields of a Little League field. With more than four million people playing or volunteering in Little League games every year, Little League is the institutional rite of passage into the quintessential American pastime.
Little League Baseball began in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1938, when Carl Stotz, an oil company clerk, agreed to a game of catch with his young nephews-who were too young to play organized baseball. He recalled how it felt to be left out, and promised to think of a way for the boys to have a league of their own. With the help of neighbors George and Bert Bebble, Stotz created a three-team league. After being turned down by fifty-six businesses, Carl finally convinced a lumber company, a dairy, and a pretzel maker to sponsor the teams, for $30 each. On June 6, 1939, the first Little League Baseball game was played at Park Point in Williamsport.
Play Ball! charts Little League’s history from the earliest days and shows how, in many respects, its history parallels America’s history: isolation in the beginning; rapid expansion; a civil war of sorts, followed by reconstruction; struggles over civil rights and gender equity; and foreign entanglements. A microcosm of American society, Little League reflects, and is affected by, cultural, political and historical trends.
Today, Little League is played on 12,000 fields in every U.S. state and has been played in 103 other countries on six continents. Little League also sanctions play in softball, Tee Ball, and baseball for disabled children-called the Challenger Division. The Little League Baseball World Series, played annually in Williamsport, is watched by crowds of 40,000 each year in person, and by more than ten million on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
The authors were given full access to the Little League Baseball archives and have created a comprehensive history.Play Ball! contains appendixes including winners of all Little League Baseball and Softball World Series, a year-by-year history of Little League, countries in Little League, and lists of some of the famous people who played the game as children, including Kevin Costner, Mark McGwire, and George W. Bush.
Play Ball! will interest parents, former players and coaches, fans of Little League Baseball, general baseball enthusiasts, and anyone who has ever picked up a ball and bat.
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