Maine-Endwell Little Leaguers honored at Hall of Fame

Written by: Bill Francis

Surrounded by the bronze plaques of the National Pastime’s greatest names, the sport’s future was on full display with a world champion youth squad appearing in Cooperstown.

The Maine-Endwell (N.Y.) Little League World Series championship team was honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during an early Sunday afternoon ceremony inside the Plaque Gallery.

Located north of Binghamton, about 70 miles southwest of Cooperstown as the crow flies, the group of 11 players and coaches were celebrated before a crowd of about 150 for their achievements and presented with personalized certificates of recognition by Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson.

M-E captured the LLWS title with a thrilling 2-1 victory over South Korea before an estimated 23,211 fans at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Penn. on Aug. 26. After a whirlwind two months, they found themselves at the spiritual home of baseball.

“Any of us who love baseball, it’s always a thrill to come to the Hall, let alone come on a day where your team is recognized,” said M-E coach Joe Hopka, the event’s first speaker. “The boys had an incredible summer. Some unimaginable experiences, the three months that we spent together, met kids from all around the world, fans and players and coaches and media, and to watch them interact with some of their peers, some of the kids who had gone before them, some of the kids who will come after them, really an incredible experience to watch.”

Maine-Endwell Little Leaguers check out their own artifacts on display in the Museum's "Whole New Ballgame" exhibit, which include a team-signed baseball, a team photo and a championship ticket. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

But Hopka wanted it to be known to the assembled crowd that what took place away from the ballfield during this celebrated run may have a longer impact on his player’s lives.

“The things that they accomplished on the baseball field…gave us some incredibly exciting moments,” Hopka said. “But what they accomplished off the field was equally as important to us in terms of the respect that they showed to teammates, opponents, umpires, bellhops at the hotel, everybody that they came in contact with they did a really nice job representing themselves, their families, their communities, so we’re equally as proud of them for that. Those are the things at the end of the day you hope that the boys take with them as they move forward in life.”

Hopka ended his speech by trying to put the day in perspective for his young players.

“At the end of the day, a great sort of capstone experience for the kids to be able to come to the Hall today. We’re truly appreciative and honored to be here,” he said. “Some day you guys will be able to tell your grandchildren, when you come here to the Hall, that one day way back in 2016 I was honored here in the Hall for some of the things that we accomplished as a team.”

Idelson, next up at the podium, told the crowd, “Cooperstown has long been synonymous with excellence and today we are celebrating excellence that took place right in our own backyard.”

M-E, representing the Mid-Atlantic Region, ended their magical season undefeated, going 24-0, and becoming the first team from New York to win a LLWS title since Mid-Island — a team from Staten Island — did so in 1964.

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“You all handled yourselves with grace, class and dignity,” Idelson said, “which is why this group of kids and coaches were also named as the 2016 recipient of the Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award, becoming the first Little League World Series team in history to both win the Little League World Series and the Sportsmanship Award, which is truly impressive.”

Voted on by the 16 participating LLWS teams, coaches, team hosts, and the staff, the Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award recognizes the team that exemplifies sportsmanship both on and off the field, including the team’s time in the dormitories, dining hall and interview room as well as their performance on the field.

“The Hall of Fame is all about preserving history, honoring excellence and connecting generations, and today we are doing all three,” Idelson said. “We honor excellence, the excellence of teamwork, the excellence of unselfishness, the excellence of fair play, the excellence of comradery, and the excellence of hard work and discipline, which resulted in this magical season.

“Gentlemen, you now have the ability and responsibility of applying those traits to other aspects of life and passing them along to others, mentoring other students about the right way to be a good teammate.”

The Maine-Endwell Little League team pictured with National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who spoke at their banquet earlier this year. Also pictured (holding the photo) is Hall of Fame Board of Director’s member and Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull, who is a proud alumnus of the Maine-Endwell Little League program. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Artifacts from M-E’s historic season that can currently be seen on the Museum’s second floor “Whole New Ballgame” exhibit include a team-signed baseball, a team photo and a championship game ticket.

“This gallery of plaques where we’re seated represent the best of the best in our game. Three-hundred-and-twelve plaques are in this gallery, including 217 of former major league players,” Idelson said. “All of the people in this gallery, all of these Hall of Famers, made their way here in different ways. They come from different backgrounds, they have different skillsets, but what they have in common is that they are strong in character, integrity and sportsmanship. That’s the common thread. And you kids have those characteristics as well. You share that with everybody in this room.”

Afterward, M-E manager Scott Rush said, “Every kid dreams about playing in the Little League World Series, let alone winning it, and then to come to the Hall of Fame is just an incredible experience.”

Ryan Harlost, who tossed a complete game in the championship contest and scored the winning run on a passed ball in the fourth inning, said the reality of a dream summer is just starting to sink in.

“(It’s) the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And it has been great seeing the whole community coming together,” said Harlost, who turned 13 in July. “And to be recognized here where the best baseball players are is really cool, too.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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