Thursday, August 25, 2005

« Little League WS could be game in purest form »

By Suss
When you're staying in Jasper, Ind. on a business trip, there's no Fox Sports Net on Holiday Inn's TV. There is ESPN, though, and lately they've been showing nothing but the Little League World Series, being held in Williamsport, Pa.

So I indulged.

Don't worry, I still get my fix of "Baseball Tonight." But I've been fixated just as much on the 11-to-12-year-old division of the national pastime, and for anyone who has an appreciation for the game -- including those who are no longer fans of MLB for any reason -- ought to tune in and lose yourself in the purity of baseball at this level.

Even though the LLWS has a scandal of its own -- the 2001 team from Brooklyn forfeit all games because their pitcher, Danny Almonte, was too old when his dad said he was 12 -- the kid's game embodies the spirit and message the sport was meant to teach everyone, fans and players alike.

Sure, the kids make mistakes. They're learning the game just like any young athlete. Albert Pujols is only 25 years old and at the top of his game, but he has much to learn about the game.

“The kids serve as our personal mirrors to our own memorable past.”
Sure, we're never going to hear about 95 percent of these kids again. It's tough to refute that -- even the great Almonte is not widely expected to be a major league player -- but where the players lack raw talent, the teams make up for it with hustle and heart.

Sure, the kids are being "overexposed." When they lose, they're not just crying, they're crying on national TV. Then again, so would we.

And that's the common link between the game and its fans. We were those kids. We may have not had an ESPN camera watching us swing at balls way off the plate, we swung at that same pitch at our elementary school's recess diamond.

At this point I should reveal the obvious: I wasn't good at baseball. I quit after one year of fast pitch because it was too hard. But I played the game because I loved watching the Atlanta Braves as a kid. I tried to emulate Terry Pendleton's swing during games. (Looking back, I wasn't even close to it. It was more like Sammy Sosa's, but he was just a scrawny Chicago White Sock back then.)

I often batted at the bottom of the order, which at that level put everyone in the lineup card. So I would bat 10th out of 13, for example. But one game I remember well: at Memorial Park in Sylvania, I went 2-for-3 with an RBI and the only double of my fourth-grade career. The next game the coach rewarded me by batting me sixth. Highlight of my career. True story. (I think I struck out and fouled out in my next game, but meh.)

Granted, since they are at the LLWS level, they're considerably better at baseball but they're extremely fallible. They eat ice cream without getting fat. They look up to their coach and listen unconditionally. They are afraid to talk to girls. They hit the cutoff man, even if he's three feet away. They tag up. They never argue with the umpires. And they love their parents.

In other words, the kids serve as our personal mirrors to our own memorable pasts.

And ESPN does a good job of keeping these kids as kids. They ask them questions such as "who's your favorite singer?" and display factoids about their favorite food/TV show/movie. (When I was that age? Hot dogs / Garfield / "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.")

Then there are the international teams. Some of these teams reside in countries were baseball is a rarity. While there are many opportunities to play ball in Latin America, Canada and East Asia, the team from Russia only has access to Moscow's only batting cage on the weekends. Russia didn't win a single game, but they did travel thousands of miles to participate in the best-of-the-best tournament, and I can again relate to this feeling when my team and I drove from Ohio to Minnesota to go 0-3 in the College Curling National Tournament, outnumbered and outplayed. We still had a blast at the tourney, and so did Russia. You can see it on their faces.

And when you look at these kids faces -- American or international -- you might be able to see yourself at that age playing baseball, softball, kickball or foursquare with your friends. If we need any reality check in the world today, we need to be able to visualize ourselves playing catch with our folks, smiling, and going inside to watch our favorite team play.

If you're turned off by major league players amid bulging payrolls and damning steroid scandals, watch the rest of the LLWS. Or when it's over, watch your local neighborhood kids play a game and get back in the spirit of what it means to enjoy baseball.


Anonymous Matt Cary said...

My name's Matthew Cary, I'm from Perrysburg, Ohio and my favorite player is Grady Sizemore.

I, too, have had an elementary school baseball experience much like your own. The difference is that we played baseball in the gymnasium, which back then was huge. At least until I got to junior high, which I then realized it was not that big, and then high school when I realized hitting the elementary schools gym ceiling with a baseball really wasn't that big of an accomplishmen. But that's besides the point of this.

My fifteen minutes of fame came the day that I hit a homerun (which was about 6 or 7 feet up the opposite wall in a gym the size of one basketball court if that gives you any idea of the size of this place). However, the more amazing part of the story is that not only was it the only hommerun I hit, I also hit it off the backboard of the basketball hoop. The only thing I regret is the fact that I don't remember if it went in the hoop or not. Some people said it did. I do not remember. Either way, I was awarded with a free ice cream cup with the accompanying wooden stick to eat it with.

Before that, I was picked somewhere close to last everyday. The next day, I remember that I was somewhere in the top five. It was a great feeling really. I went back to my old hitting ways eventually, grounding balls to the pitcher, popping out to the "outfielder" (who stood between the shortstop and second base) but for one day, I tasted victory, and it tasted like chocolate ice cream.

August 27, 2005 3:24 PM  

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