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Little League World Series: Pure as the driven slush

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When I hear the word “purity” associated with Little League baseball, that’s when I reach for Hermann Goering’s mythical revolver.

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Or my Mission of Burma collection.

Examples such as:

Aug. 12, 2009, the Sun News, Macon, Ga.: “The down-home, old-fashioned aura that the modern Little League game can still generate is something Warner Robins will do its best to nurture, said Jimmy Autry, vice president of community relations for Flint Energies, who flew to West Virginia to cheer on the Warner Robins baseball all-stars. ‘It’s going to be fun to play host to the people who like the purity of Little League.’”

Aug. 4, 2009, the Boston Globe: The headline is, “Little League final, big league joy: For fans, purity of the ‘ol’ ball game’ shines through.” Based on interviews with fans at (snicker) Harry Ball Field (snort).

Aug. 24, 2007, Beliefnet: The religion-oriented site explains why the Little League World Series is a popular TV draw. “If they’re not as gifted as professional athletes, and if they’re not as mature as them, then the conclusion may be that there’s just something inspiring about the simplicity and purity of youth baseball. These kids have nothing to play for but their team, their city, and their family. They get no money, no performance bonuses, no contract extensions. They have no union.”

The Beliefnet piece does a good job explaining what purity in sports means, and why I sounds like Old Man Grumpus (right) when it’s invoked. Purity is someone not getting paid so someone else can rake in all the money.

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Me, after pondering Little League, then getting ready to yell at clouds.

Think of the Olympics, before everyone pretty much gave up the ghost on professionalism. Or the NCAA, which perpetuates the fiction of the student-athlete, in that order.

Or Little League, which has come to rely on ESPN television money for about one-quarter of its approximately $20 million annual budget. Perceived purity pays well. Just ask the Jonas Brothers.

I’m not saying Little League is some sort of youth athletic cesspool. But this canard that somehow an enterprise that requires maximum pitch counts so coaches don’t turn their kids into rubber arms by age 13, and an enterprise that gets millions of dollars in TV money, is somehow “pure” just makes me gag.

Youth sports can be a wonderful thing. My kids are involved in them. I coach them. But if there’s any “purity” in them, I can’t see it. From birth, or even before then, parents are scheming to figure out how to turn their kids into future college scholarship recipients, or better yet, multimillion-dollar professionals. Coaches are pulling out all stops to win, just like at any other level. Money is made. Not everyone is like this. But enough are to put a lie to the idea that everyone is there just for the fun of it.

I’m not one who believes there was a good ol’ days when things were, indeed, pure. Little League’s founder, Carl Stotz, was fired in 1955 after complaining his league had become a “commercial enterprise.” He, unsuccessfully, argued against a Little League World Series.

If you watch any of the Little League World Series, you shouldn’t do so expecting that you’re seeing baseball as God intended. Purity is an impossible ideal — no matter what ESPN blathers about the joy of watching youngsters play for no money.

Written by rkcookjr

August 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm

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