SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 28: Members of the Japan team from Hamamatsu City, Japan react after losing to the West team from Huntington Beach, California 2-1 during the Little League World Series championship game on August 28, 2011 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The Little League World Series has lost its way, changing what should be an opportunity for kids to have fun and make friends into an exploitative money maker for ESPN.
I don't like the Little League World Series.
For the past two weeks, the Little League World Series has been impossible to avoid on ESPN. Between the World Leader and ABC, all 32 games were aired this year, with more than enough promotion to ensure that anyone watching during the daytime hours was aware of every single one of them.
The result was bad baseball, bad umpires, and good TV for all the wrong reasons.
No other sport seems to invite the same amount of attention for its youth leagues, and for good reason--it's not particularly good baseball. The reason we watch the MLB is to see the best players in the world play against eachother. That's one of the main attractions of watching any professional sport-to see something extraordinarily difficult being played as perfectly as possible.
That's far from what you get in the Little League World Series, where errors almost seem to be the norm rather than the exception. Mismatches run rampant as teams like Vermont are subjected to four straight beatdowns resulting in a combined score 54-6. And once you get on TV, that's when the fun really starts, and where we start to understand why it is that this sub-par product is given so much attention.
Little League is, in many ways, baseball at its purest. No contracts, no fanbases that don't come with the unconditional love of a family member, and no crushing pressure. Yes, it's competition. Yes, it sucks when you do poorly, but that's a given in all games and sports, and it's both a fact of life and very much what kids signed up for.
What these kids didn't necessarily expect was to be pushed onto an All-Star team with their former competition, been made to represent their city, their state, their region, and ultimately in the case of Huntington Beach, their nation.
For those few who did play for Huntington, their victory will be a cherished memory for the rest of their lives. They'll get to return to their homes and schools as heroes. For the other 15 teams, there's a lot less to be happy about. What about those nice Midwestern kids who went 0-3? Or our own New England squad from Rhode Island which had to take the field in front of a full house rooting almost exclusively for the other team? Their coach shrugs off their tears--literal tears--based on the premise that these 11-year-old kids will show more maturity and perspective than your average adult can muster in situations that don't involve thousands of spectators.
For some, their time in the Little League World Series is an undeniable positive. But for every Nick Pratto, there's a Gaishi Iguchi--the 12-year-old Japanese shortstop who booted the ground ball that could have saved the inning for his team. I can only hope they're not replaying his mistake every 45 minutes in Japan as they are here on Sportscenter.
The Little League World Series is so far removed from the idea of Little League that it's hard to see how the one could ever have come from the other. No longer is it about playing a game with a group of friends, learning about sportsmanship and having fun in equal amounts. Now it's about making good TV for ESPN to cash in on, from the embarrassing dancing spots with a mascot designed to appeal to children half their age to the shots of crying players. The Little League World Series has become as much reality television as it is a sporting event, with too little attention being paid to whether or not the participants actually get anything out of it.