As a kid growing up in Southern California, Roy Smalley was a Little League star. But his teams never made the journey from the West Coast to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
Smalley, who went on to play 13 seasons in the major leagues, will now be making that trek to the mecca of Little League baseball — and he’ll do so for good reason. During Tuesday’s LLWS game, Smalley will be given the 2014 William "Bill" Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award. The honor has been given annually since 1987 to a former Little League player who went on to also play in the big leagues. But the award is about more than that; the recipient must also "exemplify the spirit of Little League."
Through his work with Pitch in for Baseball, an organization that collects and donates new and slightly used baseball and softball equipment for youth in need, Smalley has done just that.
"Any time you get recognition like this, it’s very nice, obviously. It’s gratifying," said Smalley, currently an analyst with FOX Sports North. "I’m really mostly pleased about the ability to, I guess, spread the word a little bit more about Pitch in for Baseball and what we’re trying to accomplish there."
Smalley first got involved in Pitch in for Baseball when his father was contacted by someone who read a story about the elder Smalley growing up in the Great Depression era. Though his family didn’t always have a ton of money, they found a way to keep their son — Smalley’s father — in the game of baseball.
That led to Smalley talking with the folks at Pitch in for Baseball. Several years later, he was named the organization’s president in 2010.
Growing up in Southern California, Roy Smalley was a Little League star.
"They called me and I started talking to him and I got involved just on an advisory basis," Smalley said. "After a while I was very, very involved because I loved what they were doing. One thing led to another. They asked me to be president of the board, and that’s where I am today."
Smalley will be presented with the award in an on-field ceremony in Williamsport on Tuesday night prior to the 6:30 p.m. CT game. He’ll join the likes of previous winners that include former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, longtime Yankees manager Joe Torre, and former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
After starring at Southern Cal, Smalley was the first overall pick in the 1974 draft by the Texas Rangers. He spent two years in Texas before a trade sent him to the Twins in 1976 for the first of his two stints in Minnesota. Smalley later went on to play parts of three seasons with the Yankees and a brief stint with the Chicago White Sox before returning to the Twins in 1985. He capped his career by helping Minnesota win its first World Series in 1987.
Like a lot of big leaguers, though, Smalley’s love for baseball started at a young age on a Little League diamond.
"My finest memory of Little League was when I was nine years old I was given my first uniform that I ever had. I think I slept in it for a week," Smalley said. "It was just the happiest days of my life, just having a uniform and looking forward to playing."