SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Chase Knox has been playing baseball for only a year, so he was shocked by what he saw Friday at the Little League World Series.
There, under a white tent and on the grass hill above the tent, were dozens of people carrying briefcases and negotiating deals as if they were Donald Trump.
The object of their desire?
Little League pins.
“I had no idea,” said Knox, Ahwatukee’s pitcher/outfielder. “I didn’t know it was this big. In San Bernardino (at the Western Regional) there were a lot of pin traders, but this is just huge. People come here just for that.”
People such as 60-year-old David Viers, who traveled all the way from Lake Helen, Fla., to sit down on a wooden bench and trade pins with kids whose parents weren’t alive when he was of Little League age.
“I’ve been trading since 1987,” said Viers, who has lost count of his pin collection but can tell you he’s filled 17 briefcases with pins. “You get to meet a lot of nice people and a lot of nice kids. I’m going to pass this on to my children.”
Pin trading always has been a popular hobby with the Little League crowd. In recent years, thanks to the Internet, its popularity has swelled.
Google “Little League pin trading” and you’ll get 4,720,000 responses. More than 200 pins are for sale on eBay. Some pins, like the 23 in the Florida District 2 astronaut collection, are valued at $300.
But pin trading isn’t about money – “you’ll get suspended if you try to buy one or sell one,” said Ahwatukee’s Shaun Chase.
It’s a social network. It’s the modern-day version of a baseball card collection. It’s fond memories of where you were, what teams you played, and
who you met. “You make a lot of friends doing this,” said Paul Sansonetti, 18, of Haverstraw, N.Y.
As the culture of pin trading has grown, so has the variety of pins. No longer do pins simply represent a district, state or national tournament.
There’s a 24-piece Betty Boop collection. A SpongeBob SquarePants pin. A Snickers cleats pin. A Conan the Barbarian set. A Dancing With the Stars pin.
There’s an Elvis Presley pin and even a Las Vegas showgirl pin.
(Which seems odd since Little Leaguers are 11, 12 and 13 years old.)
The Holy Grail of pins is the Taiwan tassle. It is so rare that Sansonetti estimates it would go for at least $1,500 on eBay.
“You never see a tassle or an astronaut pin traded here,” Sansonetti said. “There was a trade three or four years ago when one guy traded 35 pins to get the tassle. It was still probably an unfair trade. The guy should have had to give up at least 100 pins.”
Sansonetti should know. He, his older brother Paul and father, Mike, have more than 11,000 pins in their collection. They sit in lawn chairs, drawing customers to them as if they were light to a moth.
“We’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” said Paul, 26. “My dad started it, and we’ve kept it going.” I’d like to tell you more, but I have to go. The folks at the Little League World Series were kind enough to give each member of the media a 60th anniversary pin, and there’s a Betty Boop number I have my eye on. Hey, why should everyone else have all the fun?