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GOOD SPORTS: 'Little' World Series, Big Heart
August 23, 2011  | By Diane Werts
 
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Whoa! Man! Have you been watching this Little League World Series on ESPN? These 11-to-13-year-olds from all over the world are amazing. Tuesday night's Georgia-Pennsylvania game was 6-3 after the first inning -- and we'd already seen incredible slides and tags and almost-home-runs and down-the-line triples and overturned replay calls and just about anything else you could want in a baseball game.

And this was only the latest of, I dunno, two dozen games we'd watched at our house already. The LLWS runs two weeks in Williamsport, Pa., as the games winnow down the 8 U.S. teams and 8 international teams to the final pair facing down this Sunday (Aug. 28 at 3 p.m. ET on ABC). As many as 5 games get played per day, and the action is often so astonishing, you wish there were 5 more.

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Every game is do-or-die for these kids, even in early roundrobin play (now over), because -- as you might remember if ever you were a kid -- everything is do-or-die at that age. It's all intense. Nothing's no big deal. Pitchers cry when they get pulled. Players cry when they lose. Players cry when they win.

God bless 'em.

This is reality TV, folks, with the participants at their regular-guy best. Kids play hard, parents cheer madly, whole towns show up. It doesn't hurt this year that the Clinton County, Pa., team live only 29 miles from Williamsport. They drew a 4-game attendance total of 135,643. I don't think the Mets have drawn that this season.

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It's hard to explain this annual event's appeal. I know I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me about this obsession before I fell under the spell. When we bought our first flat-screen big-screen HDTV in August 2005, took it home, and hooked up the cable box, the first HD program we stumbled over -- and there weren't many then -- was ESPN's Little League World Series coverage.

We could see each blade of grass! Each face in the stands! Every zit on every tween player!

And as we gawked at the view, we got sucked into the quality of play. And the raw emotion. And just the whole real-world wonder of 13-year-olds from Davenport, Iowa, and Lafayette, La., and Ewa Beach, Hawaii, playing guys from Guam and Moscow and Curacao. (And the occasional gal, too. None this year, but there's a female umpire from Mexico.)

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Little League still suffers the odd scandal. The Ugandan team that won the Middle East-Africa division this year was denied visas due to player-birthdate funny business. (Saudi Arabia represented instead.) But it's still a breath of fresh air in today's sports world. As the kids pitch and hit and cry, the ESPN crawl at the bottom of the screen reports on pro athletes arrested for assault, college athletes on the take, and accusations of gambling, substance abuse and general me-me-me greed and whining.

Meanwhile, seventh-graders are throwing 77 mph pitches, and pounding balls over the fence, and running in from the outfield to give a pulled pitcher a hug. (Sit down before Sunday's championship game to watch ESPN's 1 p.m. ET pre-game show filled with web gems that will wow you.)

Tom Hanks was wrong. There's crying in baseball. And hugs. And real heart, and no thought of dollar signs. Watch the Little League World Series, and see why sports really matter.

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[LLWS schedule, results and other info at official site here.]

 
 
 
 
 
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