Baseball fans of all ages were impacted by the pandemic last season, none more so than Little Leaguers. Seasons were put on hold and tournaments across the country canceled. This included the late summer Little League World Series for the first time in its near 75 year history.
With the country slowly emerging from the pandemic and opening up, the 2021 Little League World Series is back and will be played from August 18-29. But there are some tweaks to the tournament to keep everyone involved as safe as possible.
United States Teams Only
One of the great aspects of the tournament is teams from across the globe converging on South Williamsport to compete. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions between countries, the 2021 version will only feature teams from the United States. This will be the first time since 1956 that no international teams will be competing.
The field will remain at 16 teams like in previous seasons and will include the top two teams from each of the eight regional tournaments. Previous years saw only the regional winners advancing. With the expectation of international teams rejoining the tournament in 2022, the field will be expanded to 20 teams.
With the international teams missing, Little League Baseball has decided to remove the traditional regional labels from the uniforms. Instead, the focus will be on the colors assigned to each region. Adidas unveiled their colorful jerseys on June 15.
All players and coaches are required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon their arrival to Williamsport. Their contact with each other will be limited until a negative test has been confirmed. And those who are not yet vaccinated will receive testing as the tournament progresses.
Major League Baseball is helping foot the bill here by offering up the company they work with at no cost to the participates. This allows for quick and effective testing.
Over the years, Williamsport has become a travel destination for baseball fans who want to take in baseball in its purest form. But for the 2021 tournament, only parents and people associated with the participating teams will be allowed to attend. It is safe to say they won’t be surpassing the record-setting 41,184 who attended the opening round game in 2019.
The lack of outside fans in the area will add to the financial impact this has had on the town of Williamsport. It was estimated that the cancellation of last year’s tournament cost local businesses up to $40 million.
In efforts to limit contact, there will be fewer activities and events held outside of the tournament. Dinners and other planned meetups will be scaled back The popular hobby of trading baseball team pins will still be around, but kids will be encouraged to mask up and do their best to practice social distancing.
Previous tournaments saw teams broken into the United States and International bracket. But with the exclusion of international teams, those brackets have been named in honor of two baseball legends who passed away in the last year.
The left side of the bracket will play for the Hank Aaron Championship while the right side plays for the Tom Seaver Championship. Aaron is one of the greatest home run hitters in history (some would say the true home run king) and helped spearhead the Little League Urban Initiative. Seaver acted as the chairman of the Little League Museum and the first inductee into the Little League Hall of Excellence.
The Little League Organization has strongly encouraged both coaches and age-appropriate players to be vaccinated prior to the tournament. All adults at on-site events such as umpires, volunteers, and staff will be required to provide proof of vaccination to participate.
While much of the spectacle associated with the Little League World Series is toned down this year, it is great to see the tournament taking place. Fans will be able to watch televised games on ABC and ESPN. And hopefully, in 2022, we’ll see international teams return along with spectators.