The sport of baseball was being played in a somewhat recognizable form by the mid-1800s, and ever since it began, there have been children playing the sport in sandlots, back alleys or anywhere any group of kids could rustle up a stick and something approximating a ball. As baseball grew in popularity, so did opportunities for kids to play organized ball, so that these days millions of kids all around the world have the opportunity to learn and enjoy the game.
Baseball was first played at the school level as early as the 1850s, particularly by boarding schools such as Phillips Exeter and Phillips Andover. Worcester High School in Worcester, MA, may have been the first public school to compete against outside teams, doing so first in 1859. Philadelphia Central followed suit in 1863, and high schools around the nation were forming baseball teams throughout the 1870s as baseball boomed in popularity in the post-Civil War era. Today baseball ranks #4 in popularity for high school boys' sports, with nearly half a million participants each year (see Resources below).
American Legion Baseball
In 1925 the American legion, an organization founded to support war veterans, branched out into sponsoring a youth baseball program, which is the oldest, largest baseball program for teens in the United States. American Legion Baseball claims over 10 million alumni, including 52 percent of MLB players (see Resources below).
Little League Baseball was organized in 1939 to allow boys not yet old enough to play ball for the American Legion a chance to learn the game. The first-ever Little League game was played on June 6, 1939 between Lundy Lumber and Lycoming Dairy. Lundy Lumber won, 23-8, but Lycoming Dairy eventually came back to win that year's championship. Little League today is played by boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 18 on nearly 200,000 teams in more than 80 countries, making it the largest organized youth sports program in the world (see Resources below).
Babe Ruth League
In 1951, just three years after Babe Ruth died, 10 men in Hamilton Township, NJ, got together to form a baseball league for boys between 13 and 15 years old. The organization was first known as the Little Bigger League, but three years later was renamed after Babe Ruth with permission from his widow, Claire. In 1966 the Babe Ruth League started offering baseball for 16 to18 year olds, and in 1974 13-year-olds gained their own division. In 1983 Babe Ruth entered what had previously been Little League territory, with its Bambino division offering baseball for kids aged 4 through 12. Nearly one million kids now participate in Babe Ruth League baseball throughout the United States and in Canada(see Resources below).
Cal Ripken Baseball
Yet another youth baseball program named after a major league superstar, Cal Ripken Baseball takes its name from the "Ironman," Cal Ripken Jr., who played in 2,632 consecutive games for the Baltimore Orioles--a record that will not be broken soon, if ever. Even before his retirement in 2001, Cal has devoted himself to furthering the caue of youth baseball, and in 1999 the Babe Ruth League honored him by changing the name of its Bambino division to Cal Ripken Baseball. Cal himself is very involved in his namesake organization, and every year his Ripken Youth Baseball Academy in Aberdeen, MD, hosts the Cal Ripken World Series played by 11- and 12-year-old players from around the world (see Resources below).