Lance Van Auken, a former player for Cross Bayou Little League who graduated from Seminole High in 1978, has been selected to serve as executive director for the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pa.
The museum, undergoing $4 million in renovations, is set to reopen next year. Van Auken has served as vice president of communications at Little League International since 2008.
In the 1960s, Van Auken played on Cross Bayou teams coached by his father, Robert D. Van Auken. More than 20 years later, Lance was once again on the Cross Bayou baseball diamond, this time coaching his own son Lance Jr.'s team. "I think it's fair to say that Little League has been a passion of mine for more than four decades,'' said Van Auken, 52. He and his wife, Robin, now live in South Williamsport.
How has Little League changed since you were a kid?
Regarding the game itself, very little has changed, although before I turned 13 we played with a wood bat, and then we saw that change to an aluminum bat. Now, almost always they play with aluminum.
Have you seen many changes in the rules?
The rules are still the same, however, if anything has changed, it would be people's behavior in general. People are less likely to be inappropriate. Back when I was playing at Cross Bayou, and I had four older brothers who came before me, I can remember certain games between us and (other teams) where there would be a melee. People not getting seriously hurt, but I remember seeing a few rumbles. And back then, it wouldn't even make it into the Times whereas now, with everyone recording on their smartphones, it's on YouTube with four different versions immediately if it does happen.
But when you hear that Little League parents might have a bad reputation because of poor behavior during their child's game, as far as fights breaking out and that sort of thing, what's your response?
Well, the reputation that they have is undeserved. I see a lot of Little League games, and the vast majority of parents are very well-behaved. There's just a small handful of idiots that give everybody else a bad name. It's interesting how times have changed. For example, when my kids were young, soccer was just taking root in the U.S. Parents didn't have much of a frame of reference of how soccer was played, and they'd sit in stands and watch quietly. As time went on, the parents learned more about soccer, and now they are more vocal. I think when a child is involved in any activity, parents might become overzealous. Everyone just needs to make sure to remember the most important thing — make sure the kids are having fun.
Do you think girls have equal position in Little League in 2012?
Where I sit, at this level, they certainly do. In 1980, about one in 20 Little Leaguers were female, and now it is one in seven. At the local level, the leagues set up their own agenda, and in that we do have some leagues where gender is exactly equal, others they don't. Now with all that being said, when it comes to girls playing baseball, Little League was a little late coming to the game (having girls join). That didn't happen until 1974.
What's going to be the biggest challenge in your new job?
An ongoing challenge will be making sure more and more people get into the museum, but at the moment, it's deciding what will go into the exhibit cases and what won't. We have so many wonderful artifacts, and you can't display them all. What we want to do is make sure to display the artifacts that tell the Little League story the best, and it's a long story. Little League has been around 73 years.
Contact Piper Castillo firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.