It’s no secret that many governments just can’t get along on the world stage. Maybe they should try meeting on the baseball field instead.
The annual Little League World Series wrapped up in Williamsport on Aug. 25, with the team from New Orleans toppling its counterpart from Curacao in the championship game.
As always, the series was not only a chance to watch youths from around the nation and the world show off their diamond skills, but also to model what true sportsmanship looks like.
For instance, when Virginia’s Brady Yates homered in the fifth inning of his team’s game against Rhode Island, he received congratulations as he rounded the base paths from not only from his coaches, but also from the pitcher who surrendered the blast and multiple Rhode Island infielders.
Perhaps most encouraging, though, were two international teams, one of whom didn’t make it to Williamsport and the other that was forced to travel there without players’ families.
For the first time, a team from Cuba could have qualified for the Little League World Series had it prevailed in the Caribbean regional, ultimately won by Curacao. Until this year, Little League International had programs in 84 countries, including every Caribbean nation except Cuba, thanks to decades of distrust between the U.S. and the government of the late Fidel Castro. Tensions between the two nations have only increased during the Trump administration.
However, a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation to allow Cuban players to legally play professionally in the United States for the first time also opened the door to the expansion of Little League into Cuba.
Moreover, Little League plans to expand its World Series from 16 to 20 teams in 2021, creating direct access for champions from Cuba, Panama and Puerto Rico on a rotating basis in two out of every three years.
When one of those countries does not have direct entry, it will play through the Caribbean region, as all three do now (two additional regions also will be created within the U.S.).
It is indeed heartening to see that international relations in youth baseball are hitting a home run even as governments continue to strike out.
Much the same can be said for the team from Venezuela, a country that capped years of discord with the U.S. by severing diplomatic relations earlier this year.
With no American embassy in the country, the Venezuelan team had to go through Panama to acquire visas that would allow it to travel to Williamsport. However, only the team was granted visas; parents and families were denied (even one player initially was rejected, but was eventually cleared in time to join his teammates for their final game).
Once again, though, the baseball field proved to be a whole different world from foreign policy as hundreds of fans who realized that the Venezuelan kids had no family there to support them “adopted” these kids as their team and turned out to cheer for them.
For their part, the youths from the Cacique Mara Little League in Maracaibo refused to become bitter because of their isolation. They danced to celebrate success and bowed to their opponents’ fans when the final out was recorded. Ultimately, they received the 2019 Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award, which honors behavior both on and off the field.
Little League International continues to encourage, grow and put on display the kind of sportsmanship that the world needs. It is our hope that kids such as these will cherish this quality as adults as much as they embrace it now.