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Little league, big deal

You probably heard about, or even saw, a team called Maine-Endwell win the Little League World Series Championship on Sunday.

The ESPN announcers did a decent job of explaining that the players on the team come from a community of around 10,000 people just north of the Pennsylvania border. The community is actually a school district. The Maine-Endwell Spartans have been a state power in football for awhile and are now well-known as raising really good 12-year-old baseball players.

But I knew most of that already. From the time I was 13 until I left home, I lived a block from Endwell, N.Y.

I used to watch the Little League World Series championship game every year on ABC. It was fun to see kids my age competing on national television. Even though they always seemed to be from Washington or California. But as the years went on, I stopped paying attention, and began to get annoyed with the amount of time ESPN devoted to it.

That all changed this year. I watched three or four of Maine-Endwell's games, and celebrated when they beat South Korea, 2-1. It had been awhile since a team from the United States won -- I remember what a big deal it was when the team from Washington broke a long non-U.S. streak in 1983 and then again when Connecticut did the same in 1989 -- and it was a team from my hometown area that did it.

This is what Facebook is good for: I have lots of connections to that area still and I know a few people who are friends of those with kids on the team. It was pretty exciting, celebrating with those old friends, and seeing places like Hooper Road and Watson Boulevard on national TV.

In honor of the accomplishment and bringing me back to Little League for a bit, I dug out 20 cards from my collection of major leaguers who played in the Little League World Series. Here, in no particular order, are 20 notable cards of notable Little Leaguers:

1. Michael Conforto

Conforto made news last fall when he became the third player to compete in the Little League World Series, College World Series and the World Series (the others are Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg). Conforto played for the 2004 regional champs from Redmond, Wash.

2. Jason Marquis

One of the few notable cards of Jason Marquis (They all look the same. I feel sorry for any Jason Marquis player collectors). In 1991, Marquis and his Staten Island, N.Y., teammates finished third in the LLWS. Incidentally, Maine-Endwell joined Staten Island and Schenectady as the only New York State teams to win the LLWS.

3. Jim Barbieri

Speaking of that Little League championship team from Schenectady, here's a player from it now. Barbieri and Schenectady won the LLWS in 1954 after losing in the championship the previous year. His exploits are even mentioned on the back of this card.

Barbieri was the captain of that Little League team and appeared on several TV shows after the team won.

4. Jim Pankovits

Not really a notable player or a notable card (it's his Topps rookie card, but he was the 1985 Donruss set). But Pankovits, the cleanup hitter for the Richmond, Va., team that lost in the title game in 1968, remains the only ex-Little League/MLB player who I have interviewed.

5. Jason Bay

Bay played in the "International bracket" in 1990 as a member of the Trail, British Columbia team. He is the first Little League World Series participant to win Rookie of the Year honors, and no doubt the first LLWS participant to unintentionally encourage you to shop at ebay.

6. Colby Rasmus

During the championship broadcast, ESPN showed a current photo of the last U.S. team to win the LLWS. They were grown up, probably anywhere from 15-18, I'm guessing. I wondered how many of them still played baseball, which is a concern for me for Maine-Endwell, knowing how much lacrosse has its grip on kids in this state.

Rasmus is another indication of how things can change. He was on the 1999 Phenix City, Alabama team (with his brother Cory) that lost in the title game. I'm quite certain he didn't look like he does now. In many ways. And I spared you a card from his Houston Astros days.

7. Dan Wilson

Wilson played for Barrington, Illinois, which finished in third in the LLWS in 1981. He'd go on to a successful career, mostly with the Mariners. But this is one of the few draft pick cards from this period that I like.

8. Lloyd McClendon

McClendon has the coolest Little League story. He became known as "Legendary Lloyd" because during the the Little League World Series in 1971 he homered in five straight at-bats. The opponents intentionally walked him in every other at-bat. McClendon's Gary, Indiana, Little League team was the first African-American team to make the title game.

P.S.: This is one great 1989 Bowman card.

9. Gary Sheffield

Topps couldn't have produced a card like this on one of his 200-plus cards as a Dodger? Anyway, Sheffield played for the Belmont Heights-Tampa, Florida team that lost to Taiwan in the 1980 LLWS.

10. Carney Lansford

I had to go with both Carney Lansford Topps cards from 1981 because he was a popular guy at our house outside of Endwell at that time. Lansford played for the Santa Clara, Calif., team that made the final in 1969 before losing to Taipei.

11. Larvell Blanks

I've always liked this card just because he looks like he's standing next to a giant. Sugar Bear played for Valley Verde from Del Rio, Texas, in the 1962 LLWS.

12. Wilson Alvarez

Alvarez played for Venezuela in the 1982 LLWS, but they were ousted in the first round. I don't know how that was possible with Alvarez throwing all those no-hitters.

13. Michael Saunders

Look! It's a Bunt card five years before Bunt!

Another Canadian Little League participant, Saunders played for Gordon Head out of Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.

14. Bobby Mitchell

You may know Mitchell as a Minnesota Twin, if you know him at all. I remember him as a Dodgers prospect who was going to steal all the bases. Mitchell played in the 1967 LLWS for Northridge, Calif.

15. Randal Grichuk

This is a perfect example of how I wasn't paying attention to the LLWS after about 1985. Grichuk helped Lamar National of Richmond, Texas, make it to the LLWS in 2003 and 2004 and Grichuk hit the snot out of the ball each year. I would've made a note of that and not considered Grichuk another Cardinal WHO? if I had watched.

16. Todd Frazier

Frazier makes great cards. Frazier is one of the few major leaguers to play for a team that won the Little League World Series. Toms River, N.J., completed a celebrated run to the 1998 championship in beating Japan. Frazier hit a home run in the final and struck out the final batter of the game.

17. Charlie Hayes

Also makes great cards. Hayes played in the LLWS for Hub City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1977.

18. Chin-Feng Chen

Chen helped the 1990 Taiwan team capture the Little League World Series. He was the first player born in Taiwan to make the major leagues in 2002. But out of the three guys there, he had by far the least notable career, appearing in just 19 games over four years.

19. Rick Wise

One of the most accomplished pitchers to have played in the Little League World Series, Wise was in the 1958 LLWS for Rose City, Oregon.

20. Boog Powell

BOOOOOOG!!!!!!! Powell played for the Lakeland, Florida team in the 1954 World Series. They got hammered by eventual champion Schenectady, 16-0, in their first game. Powell and Barbieri were the first players to appear in the LLWS and the World Series.

Other notable major leaguers that played in the LLWS include Jeff Clement, Adam Loewen, Lance Lynn, Lastings Milledge, Yusmeiro Petit, Jurickson Profar, Kevin Cash, Sean Burroughs, Christian Bethancourt, Jonathan Schoop, Ruben Tejada, Jason Varitek and Devon Travis. There have also been a number of future pro hockey and football players to play in the LLWS.

Who knows if someone from Maine-Endwell will follow in the path?

But Maine-Endwell to me isn't just a Little League team. It's getting ice cream way out in the country when I was a kid. It's dating a girl who went to Maine-Endwell. It's dropping her off at her house in Endwell and getting into a fender-bender on the way back home (no real damage, fortunately). It's where my 25-year reunion "pregame" was held (the bar bash the day before).

That's why this year's Little League World Series meant so much. Congrats, Maine-Endwell. And all the people back home.


Marc said…
Chris Drury. Pitched a complete game, drove in two runs to take Trubull, CT. to a 1989 LLWS victory over Chinese Tapei. Won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player at Boston University. Rookie Of The Year during the 1998/99 season and Stanley Cup winner 2000/01 with the Colorado Avalanche. Two Olympic Silver Medals to his name also.

As a side note, Kevin Cash also was at the 1989 LLWS.
Big Tone said…
Carney Lansford was a beast when he played with the As ,used to watch him whenever ESPN would televise As games.
It was a blast to watch M-E win the title. Those kids were fantastic.
night owl said…
You couldn't avoid Drury in the late '80s/early '90s. I covered college hockey then so he was everywhere.
Nachos Grande said…
I work in Williamsport, PA so I was able to make one of the LLWS games this year (not the championship game however). M-E was the team that knocked the PA team out one win shy of making it to Williamsport, but the game that I was they had the PA team march on the field anyhow. I'm sure that was a bittersweet moment for those kids!

As for the players in the post, every Reds fan is sick of hearing about Frazier and Derek Jeter. Did you know the Little League version of Frazier once stood next to Derek Jeter on a baseball diamond? Well, if you watched any Reds games while Todd was with Cincy, you'd have heard that story at least three times per week...every freaking week.
Mike Matson said…
Up here the only things that were really covered were the finals and the game that a Canadian kid hit a homer and did the Edwing.
AdamE said…
I've never liked Sheffield but that is one great looking card.
Angus said…
M-E is being recognized before the Binghamton Mets game on Saturday, which is also Steven Matz bobblehead night. I am very tempted to go.
sg488 said…
Carl Taylor,Boog Powell's step brother.Boog was the pitcher and Carl was the catcher for the Lakeland team that lost to Schenectady.

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