Out in Roseland, on the southeast side of Chicago, I
sat in the kitchen of Matthew Dillon, fitter and burner at the big nearby
General Motors plant. "We never had anything like Little League when we
were kids," said Joe Le Rose, dark-haired and thin, a local coal and oil
merchant. There was agreement on this.
While we talked in the kitchen, I recalled my own
boyhood on the streets and in the parks of Chicago. In my day it was often an
accomplishment to get up a regular baseball game. Most of our games were scrub
ones. We suffered from a lack of equipment and there were not always nine
gloves to go around. When strange kids were in the game, you had to keep a
hawkeye on your glove and on everything else you owned. We played on regulation
diamonds for men, and the throwing and running distances were too great for us
and, because of this, our games became less interesting.
And there were other problems. It wasn't always easy
to get together two teams of nine players each. Umpires were hard to find, and
sometimes we had to umpire our own games. When this happened, there was more
jawing and squabbling than playing. Some kid would always turn out to be a
dynamiter, more interested in disrupting the game than in playing in it.
Something always went wrong, and many of our games were frustrating.
And I remembered how I used to dream of playing in a
league modeled after the big leagues. I imagined such a league. I envisioned
myself and other boys playing in uniform in an enclosed park. I wanted records
and averages kept. In brief, I dreamed of a Little League in my own boyhood.
There was none, but I should have welcomed one just as eagerly as boys now do.
And my dream was not peculiar. It is common to boys who love to play
The dream has come true for the kids of Roseland, a
big sprawling area of factories, stretches of prairie land, and new and old
streets. The population of Roseland includes many white-collar workers,
teachers, merchants and businessmen. It swarms with kids. They love baseball,
and they inherit and gain an interest in it and a passion for it from their
The Little League was a natural for Roseland. The idea
of organizing a league originated in the local Lions Club. A committee was
named. The coal merchant, Joe Le Rose, quickly became the leading and driving
figure on it. The Little League was contacted, and then work began in earnest.
Try-outs were announced. Money was raised. The White Sox baseball club made a
contribution. Local merchants also contributed. Hundreds of kids reported for
the first tryouts. Sites for a ball field were looked at, and one was finally
found and rented at 115th Street and Halsted. The field was cleared by the
volunteer labor of parents and interested adults. A prairie was turned into a
neat ball field, properly surveyed and neatly laid out. Materials for the field
were either donated or else procured at cost. Committees of parents, neighbors
and community people from all walks of life were formed, and a solid corps of
hard-working men was recruited. All members of the league—dues are $1 a
year—were indexed and classified according to occupation and skill. In this
way, carpenters and other skilled persons were found. The field—a model Little
League ball park—was constructed with this voluntary labor. Roseland men, at
the end of a day in factory, store and office, did another day's labor at the
field. Concrete was mixed for dugouts. Stands went up. The entire field was
fenced in. Foul-line poles were placed in left and right field, and a flagpole
was donated by the American Legion. A refreshment booth was also constructed.
Those who did this work take great pride in their achievement. No one earned a
penny for it. It was done for the kids and community.
Monthly meetings were held, and each expenditure, each
plan of activity, was considered and approved. The women were recruited into an
auxiliary, and wives and mothers also went to work. Childless people, a man and
wife who had tragically lost a son of their own, unmarried women, pitched in
alongside parents who were seeking to achieve a dream, not only for their kids
but also for themselves.
The first season, 1952, was a success. Five to six
hundred people went to see many of the games. No admission was charged, but the
hat was passed at each game. The kids played in uniforms like small imitations
of the big leaguers: umpires recruited from the neighborhood wore blue uniforms
and gave the games an added professional appearance. People who had been
strangers to one another became friends. Working men and businessmen sat
together at meetings and took rakes to prepare the field for play before each
To many, friendship, a sense of neighborhood and of
community, grew out of this enterprise. The kids love it. Organized play for
these boys is good in itself. If the community is interested in this play, the
value of this play thereby increases. The kids have a definite need for some
direction in their play, and they have an even deeper need to feel that they
belong to the community.