Like many sports, baseball was initially seen as a way for America’s young men to get out, enjoy the fresh air and engage in worthwhile exercise.
Amateur clubs popped up throughout the northeastern states in the years before the Civil War, and no matter how good or bad these clubs were at baseball, this was overshadowed by the exercise and camaraderie the sport provided.
However, after the war and the successful 1869 national tour of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the allure of professionalism grew and evolved into the formation of the National League in 1876, eventually becoming the business that is modern Major League Baseball.
For those looking for a bit of a break from the professional circuit and its multi-million dollar payrolls, the month of August plays host to a pair of tournaments where the teams and the players are not in it for massive paychecks but instead the sheer love of the game.
Aug. 15, the Little League World Series kicks off in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, while the Japanese high school Summer Koshien Tournament opened Tuesday in the city of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
For 10 days, 16 of the best Little League teams from around the world call Williamsport home, all trying to claim the coveted title of Little League World Series champion. Eight come from the United States, while the other eight arrive from Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia and Europe, among other places.
Over the years, the Little League World Series has provided baseball fans with a multitude of exciting moments, including the domination of Taiwan in the 1970s through the 1990s, Kirkland, Washington topping Chiayi, Taiwan in 1982 in what has been called the biggest upset in Little League, Warner Robbins, Georgia beating Tokyo with a walk-off home run in extra innings of the 2007 championship Lugazi, Uganda becoming the first team to represent Africa during the 2012 tournament and Mo’ne Davis becoming the first female player to pitch a shutout at the tournament in 2014.
Although there have been controversies that affected the tournament, namely teams using ineligible or overage players, there is still something relatively pure about the tournament, with young people from all over the world chasing the dream of being the hero and winning it all.
The Summer Koshien Tournament is one of the biggest baseball events in Japan, second perhaps only to the Japan Championship Series of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Over the course of two weeks, the 49 best high school baseball teams in Japan take the field to determine a national champion. In the build-up to the tournament, smaller tournaments are held throughout all of Japan’s 47 prefectures (somewhat analogous in terms of political power to a U.S. state) to make sure the top teams make it to Koshien Stadium, although due to their size and the number of high schools there, the prefectures of Tokyo and Hokkaido are divided into two areas and thus send two teams to the tournament.
Just like other high school games and tournaments in every other sport, the Summer Koshien Tournament is full of emotions, young men putting it all on the line for the chance to be known forever as a champion. Following the end of each matchup, the players on the losing side — some of whom are in tears for their run being over — scoop up a handful of infield dirt to take home as either encouragement to get back to Koshien the following year or, for seniors, as a way to have one more memory of their high school careers.
In a world of players earning massive salaries, it is refreshing to take in games being played for the love of the game. So sit back, relax, and enjoy all the Little League World Series and the Summer Koshien Tournament have to offer.