Amid the accolades our Daniel Boone Little League team earned by making it into the Little League World Series this year—a parade down Broadway, official recognition in the Missouri State House and Senate, and congratulations during Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals games—the local heroes recently sat as honored guests of T.K. Brothers Grill during the championship game.
Joined by friends and family, the crowd filled all the booths and the skybox private room and spilled out into the front tables. The teammates signed autographs, handed out balls and hooted and hollered while watching a televised broadcast of the season’s final Little League game in Williamsport, Pa. The Columbia squad was knocked out of the tournament with a one-run loss to Oregon’s team but had the distinction of being only the second team from Missouri to qualify for the Little League World Series.
“Their success definitely helped us,” said Marty Kidd, general manager of T.K. Brothers. The game, he said, doubled the typical Sunday-evening crowd at the restaurant. “We saw quite a few fans come in to watch.”
Businesses support youth sports
The sight underscored a warm, homegrown relationship between Little League baseball and local business. Many of the team’s sponsors are former players in the league who have grown up to own or run local businesses.
After the DBLL won the district competition and joined a handful of teams moving to the state tournament over the summer, Ron Phillips of Alarm Communication Center asked his former Little League All-Star teammates for donations to help fund the young players’ trip. “Every person I called sent us a check,” he said. “We all realize how important the All-Star team was to us back then.”
“Community support has been awesome,” DBLL president Phil Porter agreed. Since the team’s World Series appearance, he has received congratulatory e-mail from teammates from his own DBLL playing days. Checks in amounts ranging from $10 to $500 have arrived from all over Missouri to help cover the costs parents incurred while traveling with the team to Williamsport.
Several Columbia groups, including the Optimist, Aquinas and Cosmopolitan clubs, have provided additional financial support and have invited the team to their meetings, Porter added.
“Most of the sponsors would support us whether or not one of our teams had success,” said Mark Pfeiffer, a league board member and coach, and a partner at the law firm Bley & Pfeiffer. Still, the All-Star team’s success can’t hurt. “Hopefully,” he said, “the national attention will make it easier when we start making phone calls and sending mailings out.”
At least 64 different companies have sponsored DBLL in 2006. Many support teams in the eight different divisions. Some sponsors have purchased vinyl banners displaying their logos. By last week’s count, 10 banners were draped below the bright yellow tubing of outfield fences on the league’s playing field.
A long Little League history
Working with the team brings back memories for some of the sponsors.
Phillips played in DBLL’s opening season in 1959. His father was a coach, and his mother was the league’s first secretary. In 1962, the league’s first year to be incorporated with Little League, his All-Star team won the Missouri State Championship and came within one game of qualifying for regionals. He now coaches his daughter’s softball team, and Alarm Communication Center is a league sponsor.
Pfeiffer remembers riding his bike to the ballpark when he played in the 1970s. “My greatest memories of my father were out at Little League,” he said. Both of his sons now play.
Red Weir Athletics has provided uniforms for DBLL since its earliest days. Co-owner Mike Weir, whose father started the company, played in the late 1960s when the field was located on the Boone County Fairgrounds, between Ash and Clinkscales. Each year, Red Weir sponsors one to three teams, depending on the league’s needs.
“The list could go on forever,” Phillips said when thinking of all of the people who have returned to the league as volunteers and sponsors after playing as kids.
Back before the time of coolers, when teams gathered after games to drink sodas chilled in washtubs, DBLL was a much different group. In its first couple years, the league was open only to boys ages 10 to 12 who lived west of Garth Avenue, according to old newspaper articles.
By 1963, about 350 boys ages 9 to 15 were playing on 24 teams. DBLL could no longer share the 10 diamonds owned by Parks & Recreation with eight other leagues, but the lighted field at the fairgrounds was nearing completion. The project began with an estimated cost of $10,000, but funds grew tight when the time came for the lights and light poles to be purchased. So members of the league went to Columbia City Council. “[The league] offered to store light poles—vertically—for the city for an undisclosed period of time,” said Phillips.
Once set among empty pastures, Columbia’s baseball complex off Scott Boulevard is now surrounded by houses. “It’s a neighborhood park,” said Pfeiffer.
After four years under Porter, who also played as a youth, DBLL has built two fields, thrown opening-day barbeques, hosted district and state tournaments, and added successful fund-raisers, such as this year’s food sale.
“The biggest volunteer of all is Phil,” Pfeiffer said. “His efforts have been tireless. His heart’s in the right place.”
The league itself has been growing by 150 kids each year, Porter estimated. In 2006, nearly 1,000 Columbia children 12 and younger participated in baseball, and more than 200 played softball.
The facilities are spacious enough to support moderate growth. “But if we were to grow by 50 percent, we’d run out of field time,” said Porter.
When the league was becoming strapped for field time two years ago, it developed the last of its land. Along with other support, Columbia Insurance Group, under the direction of Ben Galloway, donated about $75,000 to help build two more fields. Since then, the sports complex has borne the company’s name.
Three years ago, Kevin Kearns approached the league about swapping its land. The developer asked whether DBLL would consider moving to another area once he rebuilt its facilities. Porter recalled the board emphasizing that the transition would need to be seamless and not risk any loss of play. The proposal never got very far, he said, and is no longer on the table. A few inquiries have been made since then, though none serious.
Along with J.C. League and the Diamond Council, DBLL is one of three baseball and softball leagues in Columbia. More than twice the size of DBLL, Diamond Council, affiliated with the City Parks & Recreation Department, fielded 223 teams with 2,700 participants in 2005. Some kids play on multiple teams.