The average 12-year-old can perform as flawlessly in a few brief seconds as any ballplayer of any age could. This is the magic of the Little League World Series.
A new crop of young faces has signaled the close of each summer for the last 68 years. The biggest – er, smallest – dreamers ascend to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, representing regions and countries far larger than their sixth grade-minds can fully grasp.
The Little League World Series is the ultimate international sporting event. The World Cup, the highest level of the world’s most popular sport, brings with it FIFA’s own cloud of improprieties, illegality and questionable ethics. When Olympic athletes descend upon Olympic Village for three weeks of debauchery, with some athletic competition sprinkled in, the International Olympic Committee provides 100,000 condoms.
The LLWS is not without flaws, last year’s U.S. Title winning Jackie Robinson Little League from the South Side of Chicago paid the ultimate consequence for illegally taking players from outside of their region. The hypocrisy in comparison is laughable. Andrew McCutchen sees the actions, while wrong, as giving an opportunity to kids who may never get another one like it. As youth baseball becomes increasingly consumed by AAU-fever, it's even more difficult for inner-city kids to get recognized – the improprieties were far outweighed by the benefit to the kids.
It is a chance to be seen nationally like players' idols; its connection to the MLB and its unique fanfare add a hint of professionalism. Yet, it does not benefit from players who end up playing professional ball, see baseball’s Gary Sheffield and Jason Bay, NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, and the NHL’s Chris Drury and Pierre Turgeon, but instead thrives because the majority doesn’t. It is as much about the winner as it is the spirit and story of those who didn’t.
For every team who has stepped foot on the diamonds’ of the youth sports capital of the world, there’s a dozen men – and 18 total women – who are never more than a beer and some friends away from regaling, no doubt for the umpteenth time, stories of their glory days.
Last year, Dave Belisle, head coach of the New England Regional team, delivered the same lesson to his son that his dad, and former coach, bestowed upon him the final time he would coach his son. Belisle’s simple message was delivered over a chorus of sniffling, teary-eyed youngsters, even his heavy New England accent could not distort his beautiful message.
Even the growing ESPN coverage and promotion can’t strip away the authentic emotions shared by players, regardless of color or nationality. It is a refreshing alternative to a professional sporting community that is wired IVs of cash and resides miles from any semblance of racial harmony.
The connection to the game is universal. The Little League World Series is, for millions of young boys, and girls with a little help from on Mo'ne Davis, the world's purest form of baseball.