The Death of Little League

I rolled into Rainier on my way to the ocean and stopped at the city park alongside the Columbia River to stretch my legs and watch the fishing boats maneuver around the freighters. Typically, sea lions abound, pissing off the fishermen, and if the season is right, ospreys do their magnificent hunting and diving. All in all, it makes for one of the finest city parks in Oregon and a quintessential Oregon scene.

Unfortunately, the park does have one small dead zone, a Little League field gone totally to seed. Blackberries in the dugouts, a weed-infested infield, bleachers well on their way to dilapidation.

This was no scrawny rural field for pickup games. This was real deal ballpark with a home run fence, a snack shack, an announcer’s booth, covered dugouts, mini bull pens, and a scoreboard in left field.

All of it now unused and never going to be used again unless it gets repurposed to a competition dog park, which it probably will be.

I walked around the field and felt a tremendous sadness. Rainier kids must have played baseball and softball here for over a half a century, maybe longer, in one of the most picturesque setting of any Little League ballpark I’ve ever seen.

What happened? No one wants to play baseball or softball in a rural town? No one wants to coach it? No umpires? Shifting cultural preferences? Declining number of kids in these places? All of the above I would think.

It contrasted mightily to the spectacle of the Little League World Series that was then going on in Williamsport, Virginia during my visit to the Coast.

Watching those games, which I did in a bar later, one would think all is well in the world of Little League baseball.

It is not. The Wold Series is a spectacle of rich parents in rich areas who have the time and money for their children to get all the special coaching, travel and equipment they need to make participation expensive and elite and totally dominated by adults.

I never really liked baseball in my youth—too much standing around. But for two months in the summer, it was a enjoyable ritual and I had the kindest coaches imaginable who never displayed an ounce of ego or raised their voices. We had losing seasons most of the time, but who cared? It was always ice cream or pizza afterward.

I drove around my hometown of Oregon City not tool long ago and every ball field I played on has gone to seed or been swallowed by development.

It was time to leave Rainier. I hit the road. The classic little ballparks along Highway 30 of Clatskanie in Astoria had also gone to seed. They are never coming back.