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Is it OK if I just hit this batter, or another argument against Little League on TV

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After the Mercer Island (Wash.) team lost to Urbandale, Iowa, in its first Little League World Series game, the Northwest Region champion coaches made clear that they were just short of suicidal, even if the kids weren’t. “They took this hard initially, but they’re kids and in 30 minutes they’ll be in the pool,” Mercer Island coach Brock Mansfield told the Seattle Times. “[For] us coaches, it could take a year, 18 months — that’s a guess.”

Well, Brock Mansfield’s message that a loss could and/or should ruin your life seems to have gotten through to his team, if the above video is any evidence.

A national television audience (and readers of Deadspin, and now, well, you) got a peek at what Brandon Lawler might be talking about on his therapist’s couch in the future. A live mike caught an exchange between Lawler and his coach after Lawler’s wild pitching helped turn a 2-1 Mercer Island lead in the sixth and final inning into a 3-2 deficit to Warner Robins, Ga.

To further set the scene: Lawler and Mercer Island had romped over their Northwest Region competition, with only the final game going the full six innings instead of being called early because of the 10-run mercy rule. A loss to Warner Robins, though, would be its third straight and would guarantee Mercer Island would not make the championship round. So a team that was used to getting its way, easily, was struggling. There’s already a lot of pressure on kids in a league game when only the parents are watching, and a lot of major-leaguers crack under the kind of pressure of playing in a must-win situation in front of a stadium and ESPN. Clearly, not a situation for a 12-year-old, or a Little League coach, for that matter.

So here is the what the mike and camera caught:

COACH: “Hey, we’re going to come up again.”
PITCHER: “Is it okay if I just hit this batter?”
COACH: “What? No. No. Are you kidding me? … Let’s get this guy. Come on. We’re still in this game. One-run game. You wanna stay in?”
PITCHER: “No.”
COACH: “You wanna come out right now?”
PITCHER: “Yes, I do. Can I sit out?”
COACH: “No, you’re going to first base.”

There is so much wrong with that exchange, other than it being during a World Series for 12-year-olds broadcast on national television as some sort of athletic purity ball, pun intended.

I don’t know what was going through the coach’s head, but it certainly wasn’t the best interest of that kid, or even his team. One thing I learned quickly as a youth coach is that if a kid says he or she does not want to play, nothing good can come from him or her playing.

I saw a great example of this a few years ago when working a volunteer shift for concessions at a sixth-grade volleyball tournament (I was there to fulfill a work requirement for my children’s school team). With a game tight late, a coach/mom subbed in her daughter, who loud enough for gyms within a 10-mile radius to hear, announced she did not want to play because she was only going to screw up. Coach/mom put her in anyway. The girl misses a few balls hit at her, but her team gets the ball back, down one. And that girl was due to serve.

Of course, she put the ball into the net.

But before the ball reached there, she jumped high enough to hit her head on the gym ceiling and screamed, “I TOLD YOU NOT TO PUT ME IN! I TOLD YOU! I TOLD YOU! I KNEW I WOULD SCREW IT UP!” And then she, her coach/mom, and her team proceed to run right in front of my concession stand (killing my business, I’ll have you know), with mom/coach pleading, “It was my fault. My fault. My fault. My fault.” I imagined it must have been a hell of dinner conversation that night.

By the way, that Mercer Island coach’s strategy of playing Lawler against his will worked out so well, Lawler struck out with a man on third to end the game at 3-2, Warner Robins. I imagine it’s going to be one hell of a plane ride back from South Williamsport, Pa.

Written by rkcookjr

August 25, 2009 at 11:50 pm

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