I like baseball—the drama, the sights and sounds of the game, and above all, the space for mindless number-crunching. I’ve even softened on Joe Buck. But I hate to see a good sport played badly, and for that reason, I’ll never again watch a game of the Little League World Series.
I know, I’m an awful person. The tykes from Curacao worked their Dutch Antillian fingers to the bone to get from Willemstad to Williamsport. Those little angels crossed an ocean to get here from Chinese Taipei, and they bow at the end of every game! The wee ones from Mexico brought a mariachi band for support. It’s adorable, it restores our faith in the game, and it provides a counterweight to the ongoing steroid scandal and offensively high-priced free agent signings.
But LLWS isn’t baseball at its purest—it’s a mockery of the game I love. Meaningful statistics are replaced by favorite foods (always pizza) and professional idols (depending on region Daisuke, A-Rod, and Big Papi are all safe bets). Enlightening the world on the heights and weights of twelve year-olds just seems a bit on the far side of perverse. As for reminding the rest of us why baseball is the national pastime, why can’t we let the kids just play the game away from the spotlights and pressure of thousands of fans? Just ask Dwight Gooden (Tampa, Florida, 1979) what early stardom can do to a young ballplayer’s head.
What are the odds that I’m seeing future major leaguers like Red Sox teammates Jason Varitek (Altimonte Springs, Florida, 1984) and Jason Bay (Trail, British Columbia, 1990)? More likely I’m watching seventeen future Denny’s shift managers and a high school kid lying about his age. I think Tek would agree that even his 2008 season was more watchable than his 1984 efforts.
My problem with the LLWS comes down to this: whatever it is—and I think it falls somewhere between slow-pitch softball and child exploitation—it’s not sports. Therefore it doesn’t belong on a sports channel. Move it to Lifetime or Oxygen, Nickelodeon maybe, but not ESPN, and not in order to replace Around the Horn or Pardon The Interruption, which is perhaps the single greatest thing to happen to sports since the forward pass. I want highlight reels of triple plays, not a pituitary case lofting a softball two hundred and twenty six feet with a metal bat.
Am I being too harsh on a group of kids with dreams of pro stardom? Maybe, but I too was once a little leaguer. I remember the experience as a mixture of boredom and sheer terror, watching pop flies land just outside the reach of my pint-sized orange Mizuno. If we continue to commercialize kids’ sports, we further encourage parents to pressure their sons and daughters to play sports they don’t enjoy. Let kids be kids and explore baseball away from the spotlight. And give me back my PTI.
Talk to Jeff about little boys at firstname.lastname@example.org