The Little League World Series: Where Pure Emotion Always Shines Through

The Little League World Series: Where Pure Emotion Always Shines Through

What makes your average 12-to-13-year-old smile and giggle like this?

Middle school crush texts you back? Parents finally let you get a puppy? Won the pocket-lotto and found a $20 bill in your jeans?

What if I told you he just gave up one of the longest home runs in Little League World Series history in front of 32,000-plus fans and a national TV audience?

At 5-foot-1 and 85 pounds – presumably soaking wet – Mehki Garrard stood on sports’ loneliest island Friday and watched Cole Wagner deposit his 22nd pitch deep into the South Williamsport night.

Wagner turned around the 75 mph offering – in terms of reaction time, that’s the equivalent of a 98 mph fastball on major league dimensions – during the Mid-Atlantic's 18-0 drubbing of Garrard’s Midwest squad, smacking the smile right onto the opposing pitcher’s face.

This is Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The base paths may be smaller, but the emotions loom larger than life. Halfway to getting knocked out of the Little League World Series, likely the early highlight of these players' young lives, Garrard watched in awe as Wagner launched a Roy Hobbs-esque moon shot that looked destined for a fantastic collision with stadium lights. He entered the at-bat a triple shy of the cycle, including another homer earlier that inning.

Leading up to the pitch, announcer Karl Ravech rattled off Wagner’s night. “Single, double, home run, two RBIs,” he began – Wagner, by the way, rounded the bases on his double after an error in right-center – before the color commentator chimed in, “I think he hits it too hard to hit a triple.”

“[He could] pull one down the line,” Ravech thought out loud during Garrard’s delivery. Upon contact – to dead center field nonetheless, I’d like to think Wagner did it to spite Ravech in the booth suggesting to poke one down the line for the cycle – both announcers yelled in unison; half in disbelief, half in pure excitement, half because, well, it’s their job. Yes, that’s too many halves; you haven’t heard baseball is 90 percent mental, but the other half is physical? We’ve got some leeway here.

Somewhere off in the distance, Kevin Costner whispered a faint “anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?”

Catcher Eli Goddard, the man with the front row seat – in the most literal sense of the term – couldn’t hold in his admiration. He didn’t tip off Wagner to the pitch being thrown like Costner’s “Crash” Davis, but let’s face it, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

With grace and composure beyond his years, he slowly strode down the third base line, all the while being passed by the 15th, 16th and 17th Pennsylvania runs of the night. Perfectly on cue with the color commentator remarking that he’d like to personally go down and congratulate Wagner, the catcher greeted the 18th and final run of the night with a firm high five like he would an old friend.

Upon further review a middle infielder, likely shortstop Treghan Parker, congratulated Wagner halfway through his well-deserved cruise around the bases. I wouldn’t be surprised if Missouri first baseman Cale McCallister used every ounce of power in his 5-foot-6, 120-pound frame to box out the first base coach to congratulate the slugger first. Not so unfortunately, the camera was focused on a spot in the distance, nearly beyond the reach of the stadium lights. If not for a camera tower planted in the middle of the landing atop Lamade Stadium’s famous hill, the ball may still be going.

As sincere a gesture as a high-five is, there is no gesture as genuine as heartfelt emotion.

There’s an invisible battle that wages in the sixty feet and six inches – forty-six feet in this case – between the batter and pitcher. It is primal in nature. Here’s a club, that guy is going to try to get that ball by you. Don’t let him.

Very few sports are made up of true one-on-one matchups. In basketball there’s help defense, in football over-the-top coverage, and in hockey defenders will put life, limb and teeth in front of a speeding puck no matter the costs. Likely a close second to getting dunked on, having a hitter turn your best fastball into a fan’s souvenir a few hundred feet away is about as bad as it gets in sports.

That embarrassment never seemed to cross Garrard’s mind. Instead he gazed into the distance, open-mouthed, laughing in pure admiration and respect for what he just witnessed. When his third baseman met him on the mound, Garrard laughingly pointed to deep center in the direction of the crater Wagner’s bomb undoubtedly left behind.

Both announcers let out matching high-pitched “woooos,” imitating the young pitcher’s reaction. It left them giddy, as it did millions of fans around the world who regardless of race, beliefs or background all share a common appreciation for baseball and its most spectacular moments – be it performed by a professional athlete or a pre-teen.

Next time you’re watching professional baseball, keep an eye out for every over-the-leg-bat-snap and pray for the unsuspecting water coolers upon which disgruntled pitchers will aggressively take out their anger. For every time that happens there are hundreds of young batters running, not sulking, back to the dugout after striking out and pitchers awe-struck to the point of disbelief after a home run they personally allowed. The Little League World Series, once again, proves a shining example of the unfiltered emotion that fuels sports and competition even in its youngest of competitors.

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The Universal Love Of Soccer

Wrapped up in the beauty of a sport.

As a kid, I remember my parents signing me, along with my older siblings, up for a recreational soccer league. They enrolled us in a multitude of different activities as well, from dance to tennis to martial arts. But little did I know that I would later find myself coming back to soccer in my middle school years where I played for about two years on an Athena A travel league, and would later find myself in high school not being able to go a week without kicking or at least juggling the ball for a couple of minutes a day. Even though I no longer play for a competitive travel league and have instead picked up a passion for running, I still find myself loving the beauty behind the sport itself. If you’ve never played the sport before or are on the verge of giving it a try, these perks of the sport prove that soccer is the world's language for people of all ages and is mending the world's diversity through the love of one simple team sport.

1. Location is never an excuse.

When it comes to playing a game or just playing by yourself, you can pretty much find anywhere to kick. Other sports, like tennis, have to be played in its specific location -- on a tennis court -- and although some sports can technically be replicated in other areas, it’s not the most fitting as soccer is in just about any place. I remember being on vacation in Mexico one summer, and playing soccer with complete strangers who I’d never met before, on the beach, using random sticks we found to create markings for two goal posts and kicking barefoot on the sand. Whether it’s in the middle of the street in your neighborhood or at an actual soccer park, you can find pretty much anywhere to start a pickup game with anyone.

2. Accessibility

Whereas other sports require a ton of equipment, soccer is beautiful in its simplicity. Although some sports, such as football also follow this “simplicity rule” of just needing a ball and you’re good, the majority of other sports don’t carry the same way. For example, in volleyball, it’s difficult to play the sport without a net, which is unlikely to be randomly carrying around, or in basketball without a hoop. Soccer is one of the simplest sports to play, with only truly requiring one piece of equipment, a ball, if you just want to pass with other people or train by yourself.

3. Learnability

Whereas many sports ential complicated rules, soccer is universally much easier to understand how to play. Because there aren’t constricting positions in a pickup game, anyone can shoot or defend at any time or have fun doing anything in between. Other sports, such as football or basketball, that have more rules than soccer make the game harder to learn for anyone, whether they’re little kids or adults. Soccer isn’t a sport that requires for all players to be able to speak the same language either -- body language is key in the sport, to communicate with other players on a simpler and universal basis.

4. Weather permitting

The aspect I probably love most about soccer is that it can be played just about anywhere. Whether it’s an indoor league, outside on a hot summer day or in the pouring rain on muddy grass, the sport is always enjoyable in just about any circumstance. Because many parks are switching from grass to turf fields, this makes it much easier to play on a reliably flat surface, whereas other sports, such as tennis require a non-rainy day.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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Why It's Still Great To Be a Georgia Bulldog

Last Monday was rough.

Yeah. So that happened.

It felt like the entire season was a dream. An incredible takeover in South Bend and a win over Notre Dame. Shutting out Tennessee. A loss to Auburn, and then a revenge win and an SEC Championship title. A stress-inducing win in double overtime at the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.

A national championship game against Alabama. A nail-biting overtime. And then...

It's over. Just like that.

It can be hard with football to grasp the suddenness of the moment, the finality of a game-winning touchdown or a crucial missed call. There's no going back; the final score is the final score, the winner is the winner, and the losing team is left to pick up the pieces. For the fans of the team that comes up short, more specifically Georgia fans, a loss like the one we all experienced Monday night can feel like someone has ripped our hearts out. Because that's our team down on that field, on that screen, and when they hurt, we hurt, too. With a loss like this, it's easy to lose hope in not just our football team, but our university.

However, even though I and the rest of Bulldog Nation was seriously hurting during that game, I came to realize a few things about my school.

We are so positive all the time and it truly inspires me. Yes, it felt like the energy was sucked out of Athens the moment the game ended, but the day after, we still welcomed our team home with crowds of hundreds of fans and posters saying, "Still Proud!" At this institution, even if you come up short, even if you fail, it's okay. It's a part of the process: a building block, if you will. Find another solution. Find another way.

It feels like a family in Athens, Georgia. Even cheering for our dawgs in the National Championship felt like I was cheering for my local high school football team: there's a small town feel to this school and you can definitely sense it. So when we lost, we felt the loss collectively.

Finally, I realized that I never want to be at any other school other than the University of Georgia. Say what you will about our loss being in "typical Georgia" fashion, but there is a special air about this place that screams anything but "losers". It screams success and drive. It screams passion. Most importantly, it screams love.

So yeah, Monday sucked. But it is an incredible time to be a Georgia Bulldog.

Cover Image Credit: StadiumDB

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