(Clockwise, starting top left) Decathlete Dan O'Brien, ice hockey player Krissy Wendell, golfer Rickie Fowler and baseball player Jason Varitek all got their start in Little League baseball.
When that distinctive aluminum ping sound reverberates around South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, you know that it’s August and the Little League World Series is in town.
Now in its 72nd edition, the LLWS brings eight youth baseball teams from all over the world to central Pennsylvania each summer. While not every kid will end up in Major League Baseball someday, the tournament is a favorite among many baseball fans for the earnestness of the teams and the pure joy with which they play the game.
Some athletes do, of course, go on to play professional baseball, and some have even played at the Olympic Games. Others still have become Olympians in sports besides baseball. Some Olympians also played Little League growing up, but didn’t quite make it to the World Series, such as golf’s Rickie Fowler, soccer’s Sydney Leroux and decathlete Dan O’Brien.
With baseball making its return to the Games two years from now in Tokyo, there will be more opportunities for these Little Leaguers to one day take the field for the United States. Here are four Olympians from Team USA who also played on the diamonds of South Williamsport.
Sean Burroughs in action at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Sept. 18, 2000 in Sydney.
Sean Burroughs was a pitcher for Long Beach (California) Little League in 1992 and 1993. Long Beach was the first U.S. team to repeat as world champions. A pitcher, Burroughs threw back-to-back no hitters in 1993 while also hitting .600. The son of former major leaguer Jeff Burroughs, Sean was a highly-touted prospect and first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 1998. In 2000, he played on the U.S. Olympic Team that won gold in Sydney. It was the first, and thus far only, baseball gold medal for the United States.
Burroughs went from Single-A to Triple-A in three years before making his MLB debut in 2002 with the Padres. His best season came in 2004 when he hit .298 while playing a rock-solid third base.
Chris Drury in action at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 on Feb. 16, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
Chris Drury made his career in ice hockey, but first was a standout pitcher for Trumbull (Connecticut) at the 1989 LLWS. Drury started the world championship game against Chinese Taipei, pitching a complete game and surrendering just five hits as Trumbull won it all.
Drury went on to a decorated hockey career, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best college player with Boston University in 1998. He also won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 1999, then was a Stanley Cup champion in 2001. Drury was a three-time Olympian, winning silver medals with Team USA in 2002 and 2010.
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Jason Varitek hits a grand slam at the World Baseball Classic on March 8, 2006 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Jason Varitek is one of only three men to have played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and MLB’s World Series. But he has the added bonus of being an Olympian, playing on the U.S. team that finished fourth in the sport’s Olympic debut at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. As a youngster, his team from Altamonte, Florida, made it to the championship game but fell to South Korea 6-2.
Varitek went on to a 15-year MLB career with the Boston Red Sox, winning two World Series rings. As if all his international experience wasn’t enough, he also played in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.
Krissy Wendell controls the puck at the Olympic Winter Games Turin 2006 on Feb. 20, 2006 in Turin, Italy.
Krissy Wendell is best known as an ice hockey player, first as a dominant force for the University of Minnesota, and then starring with the U.S. national team. But she also was just the fifth girl to ever play in the Little League World Series when she played catcher for Brooklyn Center (Minnesota) in 1994. She played 18 innings behind the dish as Brooklyn Center finished in a tie for third place in the U.S. pool.
On the ice, Wendell was first a standout for Park Center (Minnesota) High School, averaging more than four goals per game. She went on to her hometown Golden Gophers and won two national championships while also earning the Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in women’s college hockey. Wendell won a silver medal at the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 and captained Team USA to a bronze medal in 2006. She also won four world championships, including three in a row from 1999-2001.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.