Sportsmanship reminders from the Little Leaguers

This year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport had an extremely cool added twist: a Major League baseball game for the tournament teams and lots of time with some of their big league idols from the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.

The youth tournament is one of the most interesting amateur sporting events in the country, with young players from around the globe competing in the spirit of fun and friendship with the backdrop of baseball.

Nationally televised by ABC or ESPN since the early 1960s, the coverage, and interest has increased with each passing decade.

On the ESPN broadcasts, players introduce themselves with candid photos while reporting their favorite big league baseball player. Some of those players even took the field at Williamsport in their own youth.

But it’s most surprising when a 12-year-old kid announces someone like Nolan Ryan as their hero. The Hall of Fame pitcher retired in 1993, more than a decade before the youngsters in Williamsport were even born.

That’s another reminder of the universal nature of baseball and the international tournament that takes place right here in Pennsylvania; it transcends language, geography, and even time.

Teams from throughout the United States vie for a place in the championship against the winner of the international division, featuring teams from countries like South Korea, Australia, Italy and Mexico.

While world leaders struggle to find common ground, Little Leaguers find it on the sand lot, the trading of souvenir pins and handshakes speaking a language of respect for the game they love and those who play it.

They take the field in similar color-coded uniforms, with all sporting the same Little League patch that reads “Character — Courage — Loyalty.”

They play the game guided by a pledge first printed in Little League Magazine in 1955: “I trust in God; I love by country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win, but win or lose I will always do my best.”

The Little League teams were obviously thrilled to spend time with the pro baseball players, but perhaps it’s the adults of the world who should be taking their cue from the next generation.

Little League games begin with the respectful acknowledgement of the teams’ national anthems: no protests, no political statements. They end with gestures of sportsmanship: shaking hands, acknowledging the friendly nature of game.

Just as Robert Fulghum wrote of the important life lessons learned in kindergarten, wouldn’t it be great if adults (athletes and others) took a page out of the Little League rule book, and pledged to practice the guiding principles of the sand lot: character, courage and loyalty; and to play fair and do our best while fostering friendship and sportsmanship.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.