When people complain about baseball, they usually mention the slow pace of a Major League game. These people have obiously not been watching the right games. I'm not talking about the big leagues. I'm not talking about hot pennant races like the current National League Central, nor heated rivalries like the Yankees and the Red Sox, or the Cards and Cubs. I'm talking about Little League.
That's right. The best baseball on television is the Little League World Series. Currently getting airplay on ESPN and ESPN2, this is not the little league that you grew up with. These kids are not only playing with as much ferocity and tenacity as a big leaguer, but they're also pulling the same type of plays. 12 year olds are pulling double plays of all sorts, hitting clutch home runs and throwing no-hitters.
After teams are selected, a regional tournament begins. Here, the local teams duke it out for the right to represent their corner of the nation. Northeast, Southeast, Mid-east, Northwest, etc. There are 8 of these teams in total, and they're split into 2 of the four possible pools. This pool play is nothing like good ole Marco Polo. The teams in each pool play against each other team in their pool. The teams with the best 2 records advance to a semi-final round for the Americas, and then onward until it's one American Team against a team from the World. Hey, atleast it's less Americentric than the World Series, or any other pompously named "World" championship.
But all that doesn't matter. It's little league afterall. These kids are playing because they want to get noticed, yes; but mostly because they want to win. They're playing hard, and being rewarded with fun, not multi-million dollar salaries that rival the GDP of small African nations. Not only that, but they're playing well.
I'm watching my second game of the evening as I write, and I'm continually amazed by the field presence some of these kids have. In the first game, I saw a double play atleast once during the inning, if not some stellar offense or defense that would be worthy of a Web Gem or two. I've seen catches made at the wall, balls snagged out of the air, dives, leaps and slides. Every element that goes into a great game. Sure, plenty of errors are made during the game, but this is Little League, it's half the fun.
I felt weird as I quaff a cold one, and watch these young kids play. All the players are from 11-12 years old, save those 13 year olds whose birthdays are after August 1. Some of these kids are small, still with the pudgy faces of a young children. However, there are others that are soundly on their way to becoming men. The pitcher for the Saugus, MA team was 6 foot, 1 inch tall and 185 pounds, but just turned 13. He was a definite advantage for the Saugus team and pitched on hell of a game.
I can't see how one can't watch these kids play ball for the sake of the game and not be delighted by what they see. These kids don't argue with the umpires, and none can complain about not-playing. One rule in play is that every player on the active roster has to have atleast one at-bat (if they walk, it still counts). The crowd is always hot, and rightfully so. It's mostly comprimised of parents, sliblings, and grandparents, all of them #1 fans for their child and their team. Hopefully they can remain civil and not tarnish this great game. After all, these kids fight back tears when they get beaned as hard as they fight in the batter's box. It would be a shame for something to overshadow the accomplishments made by these young players and their teams.