Thursday, August 24, 2006

Baseball at its Best?: The Little League World Series

by Scott Silversten

Just when you think sports has hit bottom, here comes the Little League World Series.

In a sense proving true what most non-New Yorkers think about those who inhabit the Big Apple, the Staten Island team in this year’s LLWS made the wrong kind of news this week, with a 12-year-old sending curse words to the nation via ESPN, only to be reprimanded by an overzealous coach.

For those who don’t follow the LLWS – count me among that group, but it’s hard to ignore stories on Page 2 of the newspaper – ESPN on Monday broadcasted a Staten Island player’s profanity, which was being used in an attempt to fire up his struggling team.

The coach, Nick Doscher, responded by slapping the player’s hat to remind his outfielder of the wireless microphone he was wearing.

Whether or not Doscher was more upset at the slur, or just that the player forgot about the microphone, is a discussion for another day. In response, Little League officials reprimanded both parties, threatening removal if more unsportsmanlike behavior was displayed.

ESPN is now forced to show all Little League games with a five-second delay, in order to prevent future such instances of misbehavior from reaching the viewing public. Obviously, the World Wide leader in sports doesn’t want to ruin the youth of other 12-year-olds. You know, the ones who aren’t talented enough to provide mid-summer programming.

This latest Little League debacle comes only a few weeks after Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly penned a column that detailed how, with the game on the line, a coach in Utah walked a star player to instead pitch to a weaker hitter, who just happens to be a 10-year-old cancer survivor.

Of course, it was only a few years ago that a team from the Bronx relied on an over-age star pitcher named Danny Almonte to reach the LLWS in Williamsport. And this year, the Arabian-American squad features a 6-foot-8, 256-pound player who dwarfs all his competitors.

This can all be summed in one short, little, all-encompassing word … sad.

What ever happened to Little League? The version in which everybody got their time on the field, where the highlight of the day was the post-game orange slices, where getting your jersey at the beginning of each season was truly one of the best moments of childhood.

To be very honest, I don’t know what should be done to stop this snowball rolling down the mountain. Where the LLWS championship game was once a novelty on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, now we get televised regional match-ups and way too much coverage of crying kids following a key error or lost game.

Everyone is to blame. Little League for selling the games, ESPN for televising them, coaches who put winning above all else, and parents who are re-living their childhood through their kids, all the while yelling and spewing profanity themselves as they watch from the bleachers.

Many will ask, what’s the point of playing if you aren’t going to keep score. Those people are missing the point. You keep score so those on the wrong end of the final tally will learn that 1) sometimes hard work is necessary to achieve a goal, and 2) what it means to be someone’s teammate. You win as a team and you lose as a team. If you don’t like those rules, go play chess.

The day after he made his team’s final out, a kid named Romney, that cancer survivor who watched a coach try to humiliate him all to win a Little League baseball game, was asked what he was going to do.

“I’m going to work on my batting,” Romney said. “Then maybe someday, I’ll be the one they walk.

And that is what Little League baseball is all about.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

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