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KUTNO, Poland — With the addition of a championship-caliber softball field this fall, Little League Baseball’s European Region’s complex continues to grow.

Expansion of the game has been uneven, according to the assistant director of the organization’s European Region.

“We had 130 leagues this year in our region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa),” said Shawn Sombati, who estimated the region encompasses 8,500 of Little League’s 3 million players worldwide. But “we’ve had higher numbers in the past.”

Money issues are mainly responsible for the wavy pattern on the region’s growth chart, according to the 29-year-old Sombati.

“A lot of federations have trouble coming up with the money to charter their leagues,” he said. “What a lot of countries will do if they don’t plan to send a team to the tournament is not charter them.”

Little League isn’t about tournaments, Sombati said.

“It is based on getting as many kids participating as possible. We want them to be included. If they can’t afford the fees, there are things we can do.”

Lack of trust is another reason that national baseball and softball federations are sometimes reluctant to charter their leagues.

“Some federations think we’re going to come in and take over their youth programs and their money,” Sombati said. “But we want them to understand that we’re not a threat.”

London Area Little League President Ron Pasch, who is about to begin his fourth year on the job, said he has found Little League officials to be invaluable and he’s enthusiastic about what the Little League headquarters — mainly Europe Region Director Beata Kuszuba — has done for the program in his area.

“Beata has been very supportive and helpful of our league,” he said. “She’s given us an appreciation of the benefits available from Little League and what we need to do to get ready for the tournament.

“In a situation involving expatriates, where there’s so much turnover, it’s nice to have someone who can tell you how to do things,” Pasch added.

Progress is also being made in places far away.

“Uganda is going strong,” Sombati said. “We have a lot of expatriates there working with the schools.”

Sombati said the win-at-all-cost philosophy sometimes hampers Little League’s efforts in Europe.

“In some countries, the emphasis is on winning. There might be three or four clubs located in a big city, but they draw only the best players from all over the country,” Sombati said. “They see Little League as competition for players.”

To deal with the baseball’s obscurity problem in some areas, organized baseball sends former professional players abroad to conduct clinics and demonstrations, Sombati said. And the cable channel Eurosport used to televise a Little League game each week, Sombati said.

“But in places like Poland, there’s nothing on TV. It’s hard to spread the word.”

In those cases, people who have lived in the States or seen movies about the game are the key to getting things started.

“Youth groups and churches ... can adopt a Little League team right away,” Sombati said. “In Ukraine, they’re starting leagues at orphanages. The programs are getting better all the time.”

Sombati said Little League devotes all the resources it can to building the game in the European region, providing assistance, instruction, encouragement and whatever money is available.

“Little League is an organization with good financial backing,” Sombati said, “but there’s only so much we can do.”


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