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Meet the Involuntary Workers of the Little League World Series

Some unpublished work from the 2015 Little League World Series. Reporting from South Williamsport, Pennsylvania:

Little League takes great pride in the thousands of volunteers that coach, umpire, sell nachos, and otherwise make its youth baseball programs happen worldwide. So much so that they named the secondary, 5,000-seat stadium at the South Williamsport grounds “Volunteer Stadium” when it opened in 2001.

During the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, though, one can find a crew of unpaid laborers who are not there for their children or love of the game. These folks are performing a Community Service, like the volunteers helping to instill the timeless American values of friendly competition and baseballing in the youth. But you won’t see them cheering on ESPN; they’re only here because the county probation office said so.

The probationers are easy to spot around the Series grounds. They wear faded yellow T-shirts that say simply “Little League World Series” and walk in zigs and zags with a broom and dustpan around the concourses, brushing up a bit of dust here, a Coke cup there. They are in the parking lots, waving their arms vaguely at incoming vehicles. And they line up near the end of games in the stadium entranceways or up the steps, waiting for the fans to leave so they can do a clean sweep of trash left behind. Between the games, the trash crews of 10 or 12 saunter about emptying cans and throwing the bags onto four-wheel Gators that are driven to out-of-sight dumpsters.

Workers take breaks in a fenced-in area under the stands shielded from easy viewing by green plastic. There are a few picnic tables, some leaf blowers, rolls of trash bags, and a pile of folded yellow T-shirts awaiting new recruits. Maybe 30 people are working at any one time during the day, with the numbers going up in the evening after people get off work and when clean-up is most needed.

Community Service workers relax at the Little League World Series. Photo: Josh Brokaw

Listen in as they work or wander and you catch snippets of regretful conversation: “So I got leaving the scene of an accident.” “They said my taillight was out. And then I blew a .09.”

A man with long stringy hair and gray stubble sweeping up had figured out how he will knock out his 68 hours of service time.

“If I work five doubles at 13, 14 hours a day, I can get it done.” Shifts start at 8 a.m. and go until 3, then the second shift works until 11 or so, depending on when the games end.

Assigned sweeping duty on a Friday night, a machine shop worker named C.J. was not shy about sharing his feeling on his assignment.

“This is all bullshit,” he said in a loud rasping voice, his scraggly beard titled toward the ground as he looked for more debris. “I punched a truck because they did fucking burnouts in front of my house and were throwing rocks at my nieces and nephews.”

A bypassing Little League staffer in a red shirt heard C.J. cursing and took him aside for a minute’s conversation.

“No, you didn’t get me in trouble,” he said, as he returned to his sweeping. “I got here at 7 after a 10-hour day. At my job, I sweep and pick up trash all day long. I mean, it’s my career. They said ‘You can come in at 7 and stay till its done. It might be 4 in the morning.’ I said you can keep fucking smoking what you’re smoking. That’s not happening.”

A lady in pink sweatpants who was waving pedestrians out of the buses’ way Friday afternoon said she found herself here after passing out at the wheel during an allergic reaction to her Ambien scrip. She was slapped with an under-the-influence charge.

“Here I am, 50 years old, and I don’t even drink,” Pink Sweats said. “There are people here who I guess have DUIs, and theft charges and stuff. Everyone who goes in front of a judge gets community service.”

Pink Sweats is right on a number of counts. Drunk driving charges provide plenty of labor for Little League. On last check, in early 2013, DUI charges were 40 percent of court filings, according to the local district attorney. In 2012 Lycoming County had more DUI charges than Philly, with a population of roughly 120,000 and a land area larger than Rhode Island. “Theft by unlawful taking” — i.e. shoplifting — at the local K-Mart or mall is another popular misdemeanor, along with plenty of drug charges in this heroin-hit region.

Everyone charged in Lycoming County gets community service hours – 50 hours is the standard, given with everything from six months probation to 20 year state sentences – and the unemployed can use service time to work off fines and costs. In 2011, the most recent numbers easily available in the “Best Jail Practices” report, 1,232 people did 130,604 hours of service – worth $946,879 in savings to government and nonprofits if paid at minimum wage.

However many of those hours go to Little League is unclear, but it’s a fair chunk. At 30 people for 15 hours a day, a conservative estimate, that’s 450 hours a day in people power for the two weeks of the World Series. Sit in the Lycoming County probation office every week for an hour, and the first offer you hear PO’s always make is “You can work at Little League.” It’s the easiest to schedule for both sides, with so much work available there during the Series and also during 9-5 business hours six days a week for most of the remaining year. It’s also got a bus stop — important if your driver’s license is suspended or taken away.

None of this is illegal, of course; nonprofits have always benefited from community service programs and Little League is a nonprofit, albeit one with a newly inked, eight-year, $60 million TV deal, and a CEO who takes down over $450,000 a year in total compensation. And according to (another) C.J., who was parking cars off Route 15 on Saturday, working in small crews of four or five during the offseason isn’t awful: they can drive the carts, then, and they get a lunch made in the dormitory kitchen “which isn’t too bad.”

Would you volunteer for this gig, though?

“Well, no.” C.J. laughed. “I guess we’re the volun-TOLDS.”

A lone man named Rod drinking at Riepstine’s brewery on the rained-out first day of this year’s World Series was less kind. His first and only DUI in 2011 led to him getting assigned World Series work. “They tell you you have to go to Little League. It’s a scam.”

The yellow T-shirt was presented him upon arrival.

“I went in and said I’m not wearing that yellow shirt, like a work release convict. I went home.”

The next spring, he was given extra time, 75 hours, and was sent to work it off at the World Series grounds in May.

“I power-washed the whole damn stadium myself,” Rod said. He got up and grabbed his growler to go.

“Volun-teer Stadium, my ass.”

Josh Brokaw is a writer currently based in Ithaca, N.Y. Direct critiques, communiques, and cash to jaydbrokaw at gmail.com