SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Little League World Series experience is all about making memories.
Some of the best memories are the ones you can keep forever. Like colorful, decorative pins.
It’s not a new tradition. The very first pins, small metal shaped like baseball players, were handed out at the 1947 Little League World Series. They were a gift of Jack Losch and Don Stover, according to a history of the sport at the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport.
The new kinds of pins don’t just represent different leagues or regions.
“I got a set last night that’s really cool,” Big Sky All-Stars player Ian Leatherberry said on Monday after practice. “It’s SpongeBob and Patrick with baseballs and bats, and they’re in a Hummer.”
The figures in the pins are from the TV cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
All of the Big Sky players practiced on the field and in the batting cages on Monday morning, the day after their second win at the World Series. The win earned them a berth in the semifinals on Wednesday night in the U.S. bracket against the Huntington Beach, Calif., team representing the West region. The 6 p.m. MDT game will be televised on ESPN.
Monday afternoon, the boys went off to spend time with the families. But when they’re not practicing or with their families, they often hang out in the dorms, where all of the players and coaches are staying.
That’s when the boys trade pins, Cole McKenzie said.
“I just really ask, ‘do you want to trade?’ and they’ll say yeah, and then we swap books and we just find something,” he said.
Ian, 12, Cole, 13, and Gabe Sulser, 12, all Big Sky players, each have about 200 pins they keep in soft-bound books. The trio started collecting the pins in San Bernardino after the team earned a slot at the Northwest Regional Tournament in California.
Cole said he did most of his trading in San Bernardino. The coaches gave all of the boys a certain number of pins, and then they went out traded their pins for others.
He said his favorite is one he got from the coaches, a three-part Montana pin that includes a stage coach.
Ian said he likes that pin too, but for a different reason.
“The cool thing about our pins is they’re three pins by themselves, so you can trade one pin for three pins,” he said. “So you keep multiplying those and it ends up being a lot.”
Ian’s favorite pin is a Pennsylvania pin he traded for in San Bernardino.
“It’s a Brittany spaniel pin, and I have a Brittany spaniel and I love my dog a lot,” he said.
Gabe hadn’t really heard much about trading pins until he got to San Bernardino. Then boys started knocking on his dorm room door and asking if he had any pins to trade.
As the Montana team kept winning in California, the team’s pins kept going up in value, Gabe said.
“So I was getting two for one,” he said. “By the time I got here, I had a pretty high number, I think 200 or something.”
Gabe said his favorites are the ones he’s gotten at the World Series, with the jerseys of every team.
The kids aren’t the only ones who trade pins. Just ask “Uncle” Dick Reitz, a longtime World Series volunteer from Loyalsock Township, a suburb of Williamsport. Reitz has volunteered at the World Series since 1984, and in that time he has collected thousands of pins.
Reitz is one of two volunteers, called “uncles,” who help the Big Sky players and coaches get where they need to be every day of the World Series. He and Willy Weber work with the team each day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., as do uncles for all of the teams.
The pin that Reitz hands out is called an “uncle pin,” and it includes the words “Williamsport, PA.,” and “Team Uncle” and the year. It includes a baseball and a man with his arm around a ballplayer.
Every player that arrives at South Williamsport receives an uncle pin, Reitz said, and the uncles encourage the players to hang onto those pins to remember them by.
For players who come from poor countries and may not have any pins of their own, Reitz said he tries to gather some together that they can use to trade for other pins.
He collects pins from all of the players and coaches that he can.
“I have pins from every team that played here, practically, on my bag,” Reitz said.
He keeps most of his pins in books. He has a few that are very special to him, including one from the first year that he volunteered.
The team he assisted in 1984 didn’t have any Little League pins. Instead, they had little alligator pins because they were from Altamonte Springs, Fla.
“And Jason Varitek, who is catcher for the Boston Red Sox, traded me an alligator pin for an uncle pin,” Reitz said. “And we went to the World Series championship game that year and we played Korea.”
The Seoul, South Korea, team won, Reitz said, but he kept the pin.
Years later, Varitek’s parents came back to South Williamsport to receive the award as parents of the year,” Reitz said.
“And I gave them another uncle pin to them and said, ‘Make sure Jason gets this,’ ” he said.