Brock kicks off Little League WS

Brock kicks off Little League WS

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The 60th Little League Baseball World Series began Friday with baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock tossing out the ceremonial first pitch.

The series will conclude with another Hall of Famer announcing the championship games as Joe Morgan joins former Major League hurler Orel Hershiser to broadcast the U.S. championship game on Saturday, Aug. 27. He returns to Howard J. Lamade Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 28, to call the world championship. Morgan will be the 15th Baseball Hall of Fame member since 1964 to broadcast for ABC at the Little League Baseball World Series.

All 32 games of the 2006 World Series for 11- and 12-year-olds will be televised on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Deportes.

On Thursday, on the eve of the series, Brock served as Grand Marshal of the annual Grand Slam Parade. Along with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the parade drew more than 15,000 fans to Williamsport's historic downtown, and featured the players of Little League's 16-team tournament, as well as the volunteer umpires invited to officiate.

The program began in Williamsport in 1939, on a makeshift field a few hundred feet from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna's headwaters are just down the street from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"It's like walking into the Baseball Hall of Fame; the footsteps of the past are there," Brock said.

Throughout his 19-year career, former left fielder Brock totaled a then-record 938 stolen bases and accumulated more than 3,000 hits, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series championships. The Cardinals retired his No. 20, and he was inducted into Cooperstown in 1985.

Few professional ball players attend the Little League World Series until they retire, since the two seasons overlap. Brock said he and his teammates watched the Little League world championship game on ABC in the clubhouse.

"We would watch it and ask each other, 'Did we play like that at 12?' The answer is 'No.' It has become a showcase of skill," he said.

Brock is now an ordained minister and, with his wife, Jacqueline, focuses on evangelism and promoting educational opportunities for youth. In 1979, he established the Lou Brock Scholarship Foundation.

"When I was a kid, a lot of people gave unto me, particularly coming out of high school," Brock said, adding that the scholarship program is his family's way of "giving back to the community."

"Just as we were sparked as young people, my wife and I feel that we can give a small spark to youngsters," he added.

Born in 1939, the same year Little League was founded, Brock grew up on a Louisiana cotton plantation. He did not have the opportunity to play ball until high school.

A walk-on at Southern, he hit three out of five pitches over the fence during his tryout, and was offered a full baseball scholarship on the spot. He also was selected by the United States Olympic Committee to play on the USA Pan American Baseball Team and led Southern University to the NAIA World Series Championship.

Despite his career highlights and accolades, the invitation to open the Little League World Series with the first pitch was a thrill.

"I feel like a kid getting his chance in the Little League. This is exciting for us, my wife and me, to have the ultimate Little League experience," Brock said. "It's not just the game, it's the experience."

His sons also played baseball, an important -- if difficult -- step in their childhood.

"Because they had my last name, because they were Lou Brock's sons, people had higher expectations of them," he said. "They were just little kids out there trying to harness the baseball. They just wanted a chance to play.

"I call that the 'rite of passage.' You got to go through Little League Baseball to get to football, to basketball, to life. Whether they liked it or not, in the end, it was an avenue to extend their dreams," he said.

Brock is considered by many to be an ambassador, spreading goodwill and encouraging scholarship through the sport of baseball.

He also supports "Diamonds in the Rough," an annual youth essay contest sponsored by Briggs & Stratton. The grand prize winner receives a baseball (or softball) field refurbishing as well as a baseball clinic conducted by Brock and fellow Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

Brock compared it to Little League Baseball's Urban Initiative, which is designed to increase youth participation in baseball and softball within the inner cities. With Major League Baseball as a primary backer, Little League aids in the renovation of baseball fields, helping to revitalize communities.

"It's wonderful that people are trying to restore the game in certain areas. It restores its zest," he said. "I'm happy to see Major League Baseball promote baseball to younger people because Little League is the training ground."

Brock said he believed youth baseball is becoming popular again because the reward is defined. Children witness it on television as professional athletes receive adulation.

"It's a good thing because it shows children where they want to go," he said. "The reality of baseball is, 'I'm heading home.' Baseball is the only sport that welcomes you home. Everybody high-fives you. The third base coach gives you confirmation that you are going home when he pats you on the shoulder."

"A man reaches out for confirmation; he wants to know, 'I'm doing the right thing.' I think it should be highlighted more -- the rounding of third base, the heading home, the welcoming home. It's a message that your family wants you. I think people miss that."

Robin Van Auken is the co-author of "Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.