A Fan's Notes: Little Big League
This week the 2013 Little League World Series has bought teams from across the world to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The championship game will be played on Sunday.
In this month’s “A Fan’s Notes”, commentator Victor Wishna tells us what Major League players could learn from their Little League compadres.
Last year, when the Kitasuna All-Stars of Japan crushed the Little Leaguers of tiny Goodlettsville, Tennessee, twelve-to-two, to win the sixty-sixth Little League World Series Championship, it may not have seemed like the most extraordinary of sports moments. Any game that ends by virtue of a mercy rule—Japan’s ten-run lead clinched it in the fifth inning—is probably a bit short on dramatic tension. .
Yet there was no denying that this was a game worth watching until the not-at-all-bitter end. And as the Little League World Series plays out this week, it is hard to find a sporting event that emits more good vibes that actually last through all the hype. No matter how many times ESPN runs the promos of kids from the eight U.S. teams and eight international teams running together through the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, fairgrounds, eating kettle corn, and playing carnival games, it still works. When the announcers repeatedly use the phrase that “everyone’s a winner”—or, the contrapositive, “there are no losers here”—it rings true because not one of these kids acts like a loser.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of drama on the field. In round one, Chula Vista, California, beat Grosse Pointe, Michigan, three-zip in an extra-inning no-hitter; but there were the boys from Michigan, waiting with their families to high-five the victors. The Midwest representative, Urbandale, Iowa, was eliminated in heartbreaking fashion Monday night, when a late-inning rally fell one run short. The next day, the team was all smiles at an event to benefit a Little League division for kids with physical and mental challenges.
It’s that child-like passion that, unfortunately, you can’t always count on from adults. And that includes a respect for the letter of the rules and for the spirit of the game. Every player on every Little League World Series team wears a yellow shoulder patch that declares, “I Won’t Cheat!” Imagine one of those on Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Braun…or Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire…or Roger Clemens…or Sammy Sosa. Or…you get the point.
Simply playing by the rules isn’t all that admirable—it’s understanding why the rules are there, and playing with the character they are supposed to engender. For these kids, as competitive as they are, as hard as they’ve worked to get here, and as much as they want to become champions this weekend, winning isn’t the most important thing, and certainly it isn’t the only thing. So perhaps it’s not so much that Little League is more pure than the Big Leagues, as much as that it represents what is—and could be—best about baseball at any level.
In part, that’s why the Royals’ late, [sputtering] surge toward the playoffs has been so gratifying, even if they don’t quite get there. It’s not just because K.C. hasn’t made the postseason since The Golden Girls was the hot new show, but because this generation of young Royals makes pro baseball more of a kids’ game than it has been.
That’s also why the recent suspension of Miguel Tejada for the ADHD drug Adderall—Adderall!—is so disenchanting. The thirty-nine-year-old “ageless wonder” was a big spark in the Royals’ rekindled fire, bouncing around the infield like…a little kid. Now we know why.
Of course, these Major Leaguers are the heroes to all the kids playing in Williamsport. During TV introductions, every Little Leaguer gives his name, his position, and his favorite player. I just hope those Big Leaguers are watching—to see how much they have to live up to.
- Victor Wishna is a writer, editor, author, and sports fan. He lives in Leawood. You can hear “A Fan’s Notes” monthly on Up to Date.