Greenville new home for Little League Softball World Series

North Carolina will host the tournament for 11- and 12-year-old girls for at least the next five years

Rowan County won the Little League Softball World Series last year, and now the tournament is coming to North Carolina for the next five years after Greenville signed an agreement to be the host city. (Photo courtesy Little League International)

A team from North Carolina had to travel to Oregon to win its second Little League Softball World Series championship since 2015 last summer.

For the next five years, the World Series will be coming to North Carolina.

Little League International tournament committee chairman Patrick W. Wilson last Thursday announced that the organization’s national championship tournament for girls between the ages of 11-12 will be relocated from Portland, Oregon — where it has been held for the past 26 years — to Elm Street Park in Greenville.

The five-year deal will keep the event in Eastern N.C. at least through 2024. The event is the third major national tournament to be held in the state, joining the American Legion World Series in Shelby and the NCAA Division II College World Series that has been held at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary since 2010.

“Looking at the facilities that Greenville has to offer, they’re outstanding with the stadium and the backdrop set in,” said Sara Thompson, director softball development for Little League International and the tournament director for the Softball World Series.

“The Weingartz (family) has been a tremendous asset to the Little League program and the number of tournaments they’ve hosted, and with also the community support behind it, we thought it would be a terrific fit.”

Elm Street Park, the home of Greenville Little League, was first opened in 1951 and was nearly destroyed by floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Improvements that have been made since then have transformed the park into a state-of-the-art venue for youth baseball and softball.

Stallings Stadium, the crown jewel of the facility featuring covered seating and a 40-foot long climate-controlled press box, was opened in 2012.

Located nearby the campus of East Carolina University, Elm Street Park has served as host for numerous Little League District and State tournaments over the past 25 years. The local organization has also sent its boys teams to the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1998 and 2017.

“Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park is a one-of-a-kind venue that will provide all who attend the Little League Softball World Series with memories that will last forever,” said Brian Weingartz, president of the Greenville Little League.

It is estimated that the Softball World Series will bring approximately $1 million of economic impact to Greenville and Pitt County.

“This is an exciting announcement for the City of Greenville,” Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly said in a statement. “We are thrilled that Little League International has selected our city as its new home for the Little League Softball World Series and that families from around the world will now have the opportunity to enjoy our first-class facilities and the other aspects of Greenville that make it a great place to live, work, and visit.”

This summer’s event will be contested among 10 teams, nine regional champions and the North Carolina state champion, which will get an automatic bid as the tournament’s host. Starting in 2021, the field will expand to 12 teams.

North Carolina has long been a youth softball hotbed, with teams from the state representing the Southeast Region at the World Series eight times since the tournament’s inception in 1974. Rowan County has won two of the past five Little League World Series titles.

Last year’s team, coached by Steve Yang, rolled through the postseason with a 17-0 record before traveling to Portland and clinching the championship trophy with a 4-1 win against River Ridge, Louisiana.

“We probably are more concerned about the facilities and not necessarily the strength of the program,” said Little League’s senior director of communications Brian McClintock. “We certainly take that into account … and it’s a great opportunity for the growth of the game in North Carolina. We hope that being in Greenville continues to bring excitement and more opportunities for girls in those communities.”

Greenville and the Little League Softball World Series already have a connection in ECU assistant softball coach Jessica Hirschbuhl, who played in the tournament in 2002.

“That’s a kind of small-world connection we have there,” McClintock said.

That’s not the only connection with ECU that helped make Greenville such an attractive landing spot for the Softball World Series.

“We’re hoping to share the support that community has for ECU,” McClintock said. “Certainly, the hotels and amenities structure inside the City of Greenville will make it a great home for us. It’s not too big a city that is overwhelming, but it has a great presence and a great community atmosphere to it.”

Thompson said that if things go well in Greenville, there is a good chance the contract to hold the World Series will be extended.

“We would absolutely love to make Greenville the home of the Little League Softball World Series for the next five years and beyond,” she said.