Little League Baseball Expands
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ Little League baseball is getting bigger.
In the first expansion of the Little League World Series since 1947, the championship in 2001 will swell to 16 teams, 224 players and nine days of competition.
In addition, a new multimillion-dollar stadium is planned for the showcase game for 11- and 12-year-old baseball players.
``Every Little Leaguer who puts on a uniform _ and I can speak from personal experience here _ dreams of one day playing in the Little League World Series,″ Steven Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball Inc., said Wednesday. ``Now twice as many youngsters will have the opportunity.″
The announcement ended speculation the Little League might leave town for a glitzier site such as Orlando, Fla., where Disney had offered to play host.
``This is a pretty firm commitment to the area that we’re staying,″ Keener said.
The expanded series should pump $12 million into the local economy, a $3.5 million increase, the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce said.
The World Series began with three teams in 1939 and expanded to eight teams eight years later. Some 200,000 teams in 97 countries participated in Little League baseball and softball this year.
Under the new format, U.S. regional tournaments will remain in San Bernardino, Calif.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Bristol, Conn.; and Indianapolis.
But instead of four champions, eight will be crowned, representing the Northwest, West, Midwest, Northeast, Mid-South, Southeast, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic. Each region would include six to eight states, according to a tentative blueprint.
Internationally, the national champions of Japan, Mexico and Canada will go to Williamsport, plus the representatives from the Far East, Central-South America, and the Caribbean.
Two European teams will go: one made up of primarily native European players and another composed of dependents from other nations, such as the American children of Arab-American Oil Co. workers, who often represent Saudi Arabia.
Under the new system, the 16 teams will compete in four pool competitions, with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals.
``I think it’s pretty neat,″ said Mike Gaynor, manager of the 1998 champions from Toms River, N.J. ``It’ll be easier to get to Williamsport. Still a nice accomplishment. The more teams that can get involved, the better.″
Currently, teams from four U.S. regions, Canada, the Far East, Europe and Latin America vie for the title in a week-long competition every August. That format will stay in place for 1999 and 2000.
Construction will begin in 2000 on the 5,000-seat stadium, a copy of Howard J. Lamade Stadium. The 10,000-seat Lamade Stadium, home to the World Series since 1959, will be renovated. New concession stands, a picnic area and permanent bathrooms are also planned.
Total cost of the construction will be $6.5 million. The Williamsport-Lycoming Foundation pledged $400,000, with the rest to be raised by private donors.
The new stadium will be built where fans now park, and 30 percent more people are expected to come in 2001. More hotel space might be needed.
``I think we’ll do fine,″ said Steven Capelli, mayor of Williamsport. ``We find ways to make accommodations for this magnitude of an event.″