Sunday, August 26, 2007

For Love of the Game

Since I've made a vow of blogging silence regarding my favorite MLB team, I'll write about the next best thing: the Little League World Series. I've enjoyed watching this year's LLWS coverage, which wrapped up this afternoon in dramatic fashion with Georgia winning on a walk off home run in an extra-inning thriller against Japan.

I like this Georgia team. In the late innings of yesterday's U.S. Championship game win against Texas, the Georgia coach called time out and strolled out to the mound to talk to his pitcher. The game was tight and the pitcher was a little rattled. ESPN had the coaches miked so viewers could eavesdrop. "Is everybody breathing?" the coach joked, trying to keep his team loose. He reminded them that it doesn't get any better than this; to relax, have fun, and keep doing the things that had gotten them that far. I loved that. He didn't go on some testosterone-infused, in-your-face pep talk. He calmed his team and they won. That impressed me.

I've also been impressed by the purity of the game at this level. These kids are well-instructed in the the fundamentals of baseball. They can hit, field, pitch, and run. There were a lot of home runs, even though the league moved the fences back fifteen feet. All the kids on a team have to play over the course of the game, and the league protects the arms of their young pitchers by limiting them to 85 pitches.

But what I think I enjoyed the most about the LLWS is that these kids are still young enough to allow the enthusiasm of their youth to creep into the game. Big league players are too tough and cool to show their emotions, unless it's screaming at the ump to argue a call or rushing the mound after a brush-back pitch. And they are the only professional sport, that I know of, that doesn't congratulate the opposing team at the end of the game. How lame is that? I once saw a former major leaguer trying to answer a question from a young fan about why they don't shake hands with the other team. His answer was lame. He threw out some B.S. about "being so wrapped up in the battle" with the other team that it's hard to separate from that and shake hands. What a crock. You're playing baseball. You barely have ANY contact with the other team, unless you're getting tagged out or beaned by the pitcher. Football and basketball players literally beat on each other for four quarters, yet somehow are able to put "the battle" into enough perspective (as in: IT'S A GAME!) to congratulate their opponents at game's end.

Contrast that with Little League, where players flash broad smiles as they round the bases after a home run and are greeted by their whole team at the plate. Heck, they smile after ANY hit or any time they get on base. In this afternoon's game, one of the Georgia hitters missed hitting a home run by inches. He wound up on second base, shaking his head in disbelief and mouthing the words "So close!" And after the game-winning homer and the ensuing celebration, the Georgia players graciously consoled a distraught Japan team. It was a great show of sportsmanship.

So in an age where our baseball heroes are doping and dropping like flies, the Little League World Series was a welcome and refreshing change of pace. It's too bad it's only two weeks out of the year.

No comments: