Friday, August 23, 2013

Little League = Little Extremes

Last week, one of the biggest sporting events in the state of Pennsylvania began and will be ending on Sunday. I'm talking about the Little League World Series. People from all around the country to see teams from different regions of the United States and all around the world play.

During the month of August, there is usually a surefire TV program to put on when there is absolutely nothing else on television: The Little League World Series. These eleven and twelve-year old boys enter the grand stage through their hard work and determination. They're still young enough for tears when there's a loss, but truth be told, when you see these kids make incredible plays, they're going to make you feel old and flabby and make you ask what you're currently doing with your life.

Before I begin, there might be a few things that you may not even realize if you haven't been a part of Little League yourself or don't watch nearly as much ESPN coverage as the next person. The Little League World Series not only covers a division of 11 and 12 year olds, but there are other divisions that play throughout the month: the Junior League (12-15), Senior League (13-17), and Big League (17-18). Obviously, these games are very rarely televised, and the younger boys get the spotlight, as their division is mainly referred to as the "Major Division." Also, these different divisions aren't usually played at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. There is usually a host team that is a part in the pool play and the competition goes from there.

However, with what you do see...

These kids are insane. These goodness.

One thing that was brought to my attention this past week was how some of the boys that are in little league are growing in size. One twelve-year old boy was--get this--6'2" and 200 lbs. The first thing that happened to me was that my jaw dropped and my eyeballs fell into my mouth. The second thing that happened was I vigorously shook my head because his nickname was "Swag Daddy." I digress. These boys are getting much, much bigger and ferocious-looking. From my standpoint, when I'm twice their age and they're twice my size, I become severely intimidated and will ask what the parents are feeding them.

I saw this and my brain darn-near exploded.
Could you imagine how much more these kids are going to grow before they turn 21? You almost hope that these kids don't get joint problems later on in their teenage years.

If you thought the size thing was relatively scary, there have been issues in the past when it came to the ages of the boys. The most infamous case was one of Danny Almonte, who helped lead his team from the Bronx to a third-place finish in 2001. What we didn't find out until a few weeks later was that the pitcher was actually 14 years old, as opposed to the maximum age of 12. Since the team was not involved in the final, the inevitable opening of the can of worms did not happen. The issue received a load of media attention, and lucky for Almonte, he has slipped out of the media eye since then.

Everything about this event is wonderful to examine. For instance, the umpires and concessions staff that are present at each game are there as volunteers and are doing everything without pay. That's right, the umpires you see are not getting paid for transportation and their services. They're doing it because they love to do what they do. How cool is that? This is a grand stage not only for the boys, but for the umpires' and volunteers' love of the game.

The competition used to be done in pool play format, but it is now held in a double-elimination style held between the United States teams and the International teams. When teams are eliminated, consolation games are played between US teams and international against each other. It's a good way to go out if the boys don't make it far.
When the kids aren't competing, they have a common hall where all of the kids can hang out and play games like foosball and ping-pong. There is no hostility among anyone, and everyone develops a strong relationship on and off the field. That is awesome. Even when the games get tight and tough [if you watched the Washington/Connecticut game Friday afternoon, you'll know exactly what I mean] sportsmanship is still present during and after the games.

Some of the things you will notice is how there is a recommendation for safety in the Little League World Series. The first one that should be mentioned is the sliding policy. Head-first sliding is not permitted in the Little League World Series. For example, during a game between Japan and Czech Republic, a boy playing for the Czech Republic was trying to slide into home to beat the throw and started going in head-first, but somehow spun himself around and looked like a windmill so his feet could slide into the plate first. Another rule that is practiced is the pitch counts that are enforced during the Series. A certain set of days are required to rest if a pitcher exceeds a certain amount of pitches. The maximum amount of pitches that a boy can throw is 85 or until the at-bat is finished after the 85 pitches. They're not in the major leagues yet, so that's very reasonable.
One last rule is that every boy on the roster has to be involved in the game in some way, whether it's hitting, pinch running, or playing the field. That is something that is special in my eyes, because I can remember sitting the bench in an important game and wanting to be a part of something special; I wouldn't want to see that for these boys that have come a long way from where they had originally began. One thing you may find interesting is that plays can be reviewed just as in Major League Baseball.

There is always the fuss over Little League when it comes to boys. Do they have anything when it has to do with the girls? Absolutely! There is the Little League World Series for softball, and they have almost the same format. The series for them is played earlier on in the month and isn't as largely televised as the boys' Major Division, but it exists and is slowly gaining more exposure on sports stations like ESPN. You may also witness a rare case in which you will see a girl or two play along with the boys each year. Yes, it is possible. In years past, I have seen a few girls play on the Japanese team and they did fairly well. This year, we saw a girl play for the Czech Republic, and she beat out many boys to make the team, including her own twin brother. Insane, right? She didn't play half bad, either.

Not all boys who have played Little League have continued on to play baseball after this, but many of them have become successful in their own rights, such as becoming doctors, actors, lawyers, and even MLB players--Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds was a part of the 1998 Toms River, New Jersey team that won the championship, and he was the starting pitcher in the final against Japan. This league has taught boys discipline and shown them what hard work and determination leads to. These experiences are taken wherever they go later on in life, and it leaves an indelible impression on their character and their outlook on life.

The Little League World Series is something I always look forward to when it comes on television in the month of August. While it may seem silly to some, the love of the sport and the sportsmanship that is presented by these younger boys is wonderful to watch considering how most athletes are portrayed and displayed in major league sports in the United States. It's a breath of fresh air to see a sporting event that isn't poisoned by controversies and financial issues.

It's all about the kids. That's what makes this great.