“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever received. I’ve played in a World Series, an All-Star game, and this is the greatest thing I’ve ever received.”

That was 82-year-old former Milwaukee Brave Felix Mantilla after being awarded an honorary degree from Cardinal Stritch University on May 21.

In 1972, Mantilla, along with a group of friends, founded the Felix Mantilla Little League. The league was made for kids in the socioeconomically- challenged southside of Milwaukee.

“A lot of these kids do not get the same opportunities as kids from other areas,” Mantilla said. “It’s important that they get their opportunities, and then learn and take their education seriously.”

After approximately 45 years, the league is still thriving.

Thousands of kids who come from a tough low-income background have participated in the league. The opportunity for these kids to make friends, have a sense of responsibility and commitment, and compete with one another helps set them up for future success.

Although the athletic competition is important, people around Mantilla know that he values education and academic focus as equally, if not more, significant.

“I always told my kids, books before bats,” said Mantilla. “Not a lot of people can make it in professional baseball, but a lot of people can make a difference somewhere else if they work hard.”

One may get the sense that Mantilla values education solely based off of the career paths of his children.

His son Felix is an attorney and co-founder of the energy company “Great Ball of Light.”  His other son, Jose, is a banking executive in Milwaukee.

Expansion is on the horizon as well for the Felix Mantilla Little League. Talks have commenced about implementing the league in additional locations such as Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Mexico.

Mantilla started this league to help kids in rough circumstances succeed. After 45 years, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Cardinal Stritch University.

Perhaps, the journey of the Felix Mantilla, and his little league, is just getting started.