This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals will be participating in the inaugural MLB Little League Classic at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bowman Field is the home of the short season A New York/Penn League Williamsport Crosscutters. Williamsport is also world famous as the "Home of Little League Baseball." This fan post will be covering a bit of the history of minor league baseball and Little League and the Little League World Series.
BB&T Park at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport is the second oldest ballpark in minor league baseball. The stadium underwent a major renovation this year in anticipation of the Little League Classic.
Now home of the Williamsport Crosscutters, the Phillies' New York-Penn League affiliate, gracious old Bowman Field is better known as "Historic" Bowman Field in the town best known nationally as the home of the Little League World Series.
Built in 1926, Bowman Field is a charming, meticulously maintained, little ballpark that seats 2,366, but with spacious dimensions -- 345 feet down the left field line, 350 to right, 405 to center. It was once cavernous. The original dimensions were 400 feet to left, 367 to right and 450 to center. The first home run in the park's history was hit by Negro League legend Oscar Charleston, but only 10 home runs were hit in the first eight years of the park's existence, and the fences were eventually moved in.
An interesting bit of trivia: Bowman Field was the home of the Williamsport Outlaws of the Federal Hockey League for part of the 2012-2013 hockey season. They, of course, played all of their home games outdoors on the ball field. The team ceased operations during January of that season.
Minor League teams in Williamsport
Minor League baseball has a long history in Williamsport, long, but not all that successful. The first professional team to call Williamsport home was the Williamsport Millionaires of the Tri-State League from 1906 - 1910. The Millionaires nickname is also the current nickname of the sports teams at Williamsport High School and comes from the lumber era of Williamsport when it was home to many, many lumber king millionaires.
The first extended period of time of MiLB in Williamsport began in 1924 and lasted until 1962. The teams in Williamsport played Class B (1924 - 19332) and Class A baseball (1933 - 1962) in the old New-York Penn League and later the Eastern League. The teams were mostly known as the Williamsport Grays with periods of time being known as the Tigers or Athletics. MLB affiliations during this time included the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, A's (again), Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Phillies.
Williamsport was without minor league baseball for most of the next 25+ years, with one exception. The Williamsport Tomahawks were the Cleveland Indians AA Eastern League affiliate in 1976. They left town when Williamsport's city council and Tomahawk ownership couldn't agree on beer sales and on how Bowman Field was to be maintained.
The Eastern League returned in 1987 with the Williamsport Bills. The Bills were affiliated with the Indians for two seasons, the Seattle Mariners for two more, and the New York Mets for a fifth season. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle managed the Bills in 1991. Former MLB manager Mike Hargrove was the manager in 1988. These teams were all pretty bad with finishes of 6th or 7th in every season. The franchise moved north to Binghamton, New York in 1992.
Williamsport became the home of the New York-Penn League Williamsport Cubs in 1994. The cubs affiliation remained through the 1998 season. The only notable player from this era of baseball in Williamsport listed by Baseball Reference is Kerry Wood.
Short season A ball continued in Williamsport the following season when the Cubs were replaced by the Pirates and the team received its current name, the Williamsport Crosscutters. The Pirates affiliation stretched from 1999 - 2006. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista are the most notable former Pirate Crosscutters. The Crosscutters became a Phillies affiliate, the affiliation the have today, starting with the 2007 season. Success has been up and down for the Crosscutters. They were league champions twice under the control of the Pirates. The 2001 season lists Williamsport as co-champions since the end of the season was cancelled following the terrorist attacks on September 11. There are two NY-Penn teams based in NYC: Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones. The Crosscutters were outright champions in 2003. The regular season champions of 2015 lost in the first round of the playoffs.
I suspect NY-Penn baseball will remain in Willamsport for the foreseeable future. I don't see how they could spend the money they did getting it up to standard for Major League Baseball only to see the MiLB team leave.
Little League Baseball
Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 in Williamsport by Carl Stotz. The first games were played in Memorial Park which is part of the Bowman Field complex. Later the league moved across West Fourth Street to what is currently the home of Original League baseball. Little League grew rapidly from Stotz's four team neighborhood league to a vast worldwide non-profit company.
The first Little League World Series was held at Original field in 1947 with the Williamsport based Maynard Little League winning the first title. The series was moved to Howard J. Lamade Stadium in 1959 across the West Branch Susquehanna River in South Williamsport next to Little League's international headquarters at the base of Bald Eagle Mountain.
Wikipedia has a thorough list of Little League World Series Champions. The leading nations winning the world series are the United States, Taiwan, and Japan. California is the state with the most champions at 10. The series has grown from a four team tournament, to an eight team tournament that was single elimination to today's 16 team round robin format. Additionally, Volunteer Stadium was built behind Lamade to allow for expansion.
The players are housed at the grove on the hill above Lamade Stadium where they get to meet with their peers from all over the world.
Many LLWS alumni have moved to to bigger and better things in life, many having tremendous success in professional sports. Here is a list of famous Little League World Series participants. Three participants in the MLB Little League Classic played in the Little League World Series. Max Moroff of the Pirates played in the 2005 series for Maitland Little League of Maitland, Florida. The Cardinals Lance Lynn was a member of the 1999 Brownsburg, Indiana all-stars. Randall Grichuk of the Cardinals played in the LLWS twice for Lamar National Little League of Lamar, Texas in 2003 and 2004.
My experiences with Bowman Field and the Little League World Series
I grew up in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania and developed a keen interest in sports at a very young age. My first year of Pop Warner football took place in 1986. That year, I played for Williamsport Pop Warner, since South Williamsport didn't have their own team. We held our practices and played all of our home games in the outfield of Bowman Field. This was one year before the Bills arrived. I remember the place being a dump! The locker rooms were dirty and dank and a bit frightening to me. The outfield fence seemed to be rotting. Williamsport Pop Warner continued to play a Bowman Field for a few more years. I played for South Williamsport in the following seasons and remember thinking that it was cool that I got to play football on the field where I saw the Bills play baseball.
I went to almost all of the games of the Little League World Series from early in my childhood until I moved away from the Williamsport Area. When I was a kid, Little League was still a fairly simple operation. There was just one stadium and the series was less than a week long. All the concessions were very affordable and the concession stands served as fund raisers for local organizations like the Lions Club and the South Wlliamsport High School Band. This has all changed in the 2000s when concessions were contracted out to national corporations.
I worked for several years at a mom and pop motel and restuarant, the City View Inn, that used to overlook Lamade Stadium. We always hosted the families of one of the teams. I remember the team from Guam stayed with us and we allowed the families to use our restaurants kitchen to cook Guamanian food. The City View Inn was sold and torn down as Little League worked to acquire more land along Route 15. I worked at Little League one summer when I was in college. It was a cool job. I met Stan Musial that summer. I vividly remember how friendly he was and that he was wearing white loafers with black socks, khakis, a Hawaiian shirt that was tucked into his khakis and with a white belt. I haven't been to the LLWS since the complex was expanded. I am not sure that I want to. All the changes and the commercialization of the event saddens me.