Little League World Series rich in tradition

Pin collecting, sliding down Lamade Hill some special aspects of event

August 18th, 2017

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Little League volunteer usher David Stoker sat outside Section 3 of Lamade Stadium wearing a cap so covered in pins that just the bill was exposed. Last year, he and his wife made a set of four dog pins to add to his hat, including one gold one that signified not only their 50th wedding anniversary, but his 50th year as a Little League usher.
Pin trading is one of the biggest traditions of the Little League World Series, and Stoker has used his 51 years as a volunteer to rack up 8,500 pins that he keeps on his hat, in cases and in bags. Almost all of his thousands of pins come with him each year, sitting on the ground beside him, ready to make a trade at any time.
"[The ushers] know which ones are good and ones that are not so good. But to do it with teaching the boys or the girls is take your time with them, show them, which I do," Stoker said. "That is the heartwarming part for pin trading for me is making the kids happy."
Fans, players, workers and even broadcasting crews bring and collect pins throughout the entire World Series. Although not everyone can reach Stoker's sizeable collection, the goal is to collect as many pins as possible in the two weeks in Williamsport.
"There [are] so many guys that come in, and they do have their own sets of pins," Stoker said. "One of the biggest ones is ESPN. ESPN pins are so hard to get, and this makes it a challenge. So we go out and we mingle in with some of the ESPN crews. We get to know who to go to, and that's how we go and trade. A lot of them will trade with us, but there are some that don't want to trade. They just want to be able to give us pins to make our collections that much more important."
When fans or players are not carrying pin binders, it's common to carry large pieces of flattened cardboard to use as a sled to slide down Lamade Hill. For experienced sliders, some bring crayons to scribble on the backside of the cardboard to use the wax for optimum speed.
MLB vice president of youth programs -- and Williamsport native -- David James spent his childhood summers at the World Series, sliding down the steep hill in center field of Lamade Stadium.
"Yes, I have [slid down the hill]," James said smiling and laughing as he remembered his experience. "I still got some bruises and some scars as a part of it."
Because James has been around Williamsport so long, he realizes that the mainstream traditions are not the only great traditions of this event. James thinks that the team hosts -- volunteers who are assigned a team to help out throughout the World Series -- are a great tradition that is not as well known.
"There's guys that have been team hosts here for 25-, 30-plus years," James said. "What's also neat is I know these team hosts stay in touch with these teams after the Series is over. I've heard some stories about a kid who has now made it to the Majors [like] is still in touch with his team host. They call them the team uncles and team aunts, so I think that's a pretty neat tradition here also."
It's clear that none of the Little League World Series would be able to happen without the hundreds of volunteers like Stoker.
"It's tradition," James said. "I know sometimes it's a challenge for new people to work their way in maybe in a category that they want, but it's sort of part of the process of Little League. You start when you're younger, you sort of mature through the program and then you get to experience some of the bigger things. It's really neat what goes on here, the commitment to the program."