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Michigan town boycotts Little League playoffs

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All over the nation, all-star teams in no-star towns are starting the long road to South Williamsport, Pa., and its Little League World Series. I would ask the fine folks of the Little League in Escanaba, Mich., to throw out the first pitch, except they’ve already taken their ball and gone home.

Escanaba, a city of 12,000 on the Lake Michigan coast of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, has elected to sit out the Little League playoffs in a decision its local board ungrammatically said “was not easy but was forced by years of working the bureaucrat system.” Are any of them members of the Democrat party?

So what is the problem? Like India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and you and your little brother over the backseat of your parents’ 1979 Cutlass, the issue is a border dispute.

According to the Daily Press of Escanaba, that city’s Little League started in 1951, and took a trip to the World Series in 1957. However, Gladstone, a city of 5,000 seven miles up the coast, formed its own Little League in 1973, in part because of fiddling with Escanaba’s boundaries so it could keep as much of the city as possible and meet the Little League standard of a population of 15,000. One section was lopped off “because many of the residents were senior citizens and if there were any children they were more likely to be interested in sailing, tennis or golf.” When families in that area complained that their kids indeed like baseball, too, when they weren’t busy being little Newport, R.I., the borders were readjusted, and upset parents in the newly carved-out territory joined forces with Gladstone, where it remains to this day.

(By the way, the territory Gladstone’s Little League serves includes an area my father, a Boston native who came to Upper Michigan when he was assigned there in the Air Force, derisively referred to as “nowhere.” As in, when he was dating my mother, a Gladstone native, my father — used to cities and suburbs that all blended together — while they were driving asked her, “Where are we?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “No, what city are we in?” My mom said, “We’re not in one. We’re between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “But if we died in a car accident, where would they say we died?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “So you mean, ‘Nowhere.’ “)

Funny story: Over the years, Little League raised its population maximum per territory to 20,000, and Escanaba’s population declined to below 15,000 anyway. So there was no need to adjust territories. Also, the territory Escanaba lopped off happened to supply a fair number of players. So Gladstone, with less than half the population of Escanaba, has 402 registered players, while Escanaba has 332.

Escanaba would like its players back, you know, for the kids. A release Escanaba put out in May, announcing its Little League playoff boycott, boo-hooed: “[I]t is very difficult for a coach or a board member to have to tell an Escanaba student that they cannot play ball with their school friends.” It hurts them more than it hurts you, kid.

Of course, this argument is going over in Gladstone as well as a fart in deer camp.

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A fart in deer camp, courtesy of Jeff Daniels’ 2001 opus, “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Says Gladstone Little League president Mike Gobert, in the Daily Press: “With the program we have, we have a pretty good set-up. I’m perfectly satisfied with the way it is.” Of course.

Actually, the Gladstone Little League is right, and I’m not just saying that because my mother grew up there, and because my grandmother ran the Daily Press Gladstone bureau for years. (In Gladstone, not between Gladstone and Escanaba.) If Escanaba hadn’t tried to game the system decades before, it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is today, like what people say about Reaganism and the state of the present American economy.

I’m not sure what Escanaba thinks it can gain by a boycott. The Gladstone Little League says it is getting calls from Escanaba parents asking if they can enter their kids on a Gladstone all-star team, but that isn’t happening. So the kids are upset, and I doubt the Escanaba parents are blaming Gladstone. Anyway, I don’t think that when Brent Musberger takes the mike for the Little League World Series, he’ll say, “We have some great teams here, but they’ll all have an asterisk, because mighty Escanaba never played.”

On top of that, Escanaba lost the right to host any Little League playoffs. The girls senior division goes to Manistique, population 3,500, while the age 11 state tournament shifts to — ha ha — Gladstone. Given that the Upper Michigan economy was never great even when it was good, the only thing Escanaba’s boycott is accomplishing is preventing people from spending much-needed money there.

I hope the Escanaba bureaucrat system is happy with that.

If youth sports is professionalized, then pay the kids

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The Village Voice’s Graham Rayman is shocked that the AAU, the high-level cesspool every young basketball player must swim through if he is to reach the sunny beach of the NBA, has started putting together its own national rankings of its affiliated boys’ basketball teams — including the 10-and-under teams. And Rayman isn’t easily shocked, not with his own experiences coaching elite-level boys basketball. In his catatonic state, Rayman wonders what this says about the state of youth sports:

So, where’s it all going? Maybe toward the professionalization of youth sports?

We’re kidding here, of course, but let’s just play out the logic here, and suggest why not just have an NBA for kids. There’s a Swiftian “Modest Proposal.”

Let’s do away with the BS and just pay kids to play. The more competitive teams already play something like two tournaments a week year round, and practice at least two times a week. A lot of teams practice five times a week. It’s pretty much a job already. So, seriously: contracts, agents, drafts, the works.

Anyone want to invest?

(Raises hand.)

Graham Rayman, I’m way ahead of you on this one. In a 2006 column for, I called for participants in the heavily sponsored, big-money Little League World Series to strike for their share of the booty:

Young people, you have two choices. The fight for what is yours can end in, as Marx put it, “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

“The common ruin of the contending classes” is what happens when your teachers gives the whole class a pop quiz because one guy threw a spitball. So that means you have only one choice. It’s time for a revolution! It’s time to strike!

That’s right, strike!

We’re not heading for the professionalization of youth sports. We’re there. It’s just that kids are the only ones not getting paid.

The reason the AAU is ranking its own clubs is to continue to build its hype as the place you have to be if you have any pro dreams whatsoever, thus causing parents to shell out big bucks to be on a team, and those teams to shell out big bucks in AAU affiliation. (By the way, you can only be ranked if you participate in a certain number of AAU tournaments against other AAU teams.)

I’m sure Rayman knows this, but the AAU sidelines are rife with hustlers and cheats trying to worm their way into the hearts and minds of single-digit-aged players (and their coaches) so that someday they can be that kid’s agent or paid hanger-on. As this Yahoo Sports investigation showed, the coach is often a willing participant in these shenanigans, to the tunes of hundreds of thousands dollars sent in the direction of his team.

Rayman might think he’s kidding, but I’m not sure in his heart of hearts he is. Or should be. If the agents and AAU coaches want to give little Johnny Hotshit a retainer, then why not? I’m sure the parents and/or guardians would be more than happy to sign a contract. The biggest danger would be signing a rip-off deal that ties a kid to an agent for a long, long term, and/or notes that all monies are advances on an NBA contract and must be paid back. But that could be worked out. And the kid would get something while he crisscrosses the country, all in the likely vain hope that he’ll go pro.

How vain is that hope? Check out this piece from 2004 giving an unofficial top 25 AAU team rankings (hey, the AAU might have been thinking if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.) Check out the names. You’ll recognize Greg Oden, Jeff Green, Brook Lopez and Gerald Henderson. But most of the names are who-dats and cautionary tales, such as Edwin Rios, who went from big-time star to burglary arrestee. And those names, not counting anything they got under the table, didn’t see a dime for their time and hard work.

Written by rkcookjr

January 22, 2010 at 12:47 am

The Little League World Series is depressingly popular television

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592822179_cc2a0e7545In his Twitter feed, ESPN vice president of media relations Mike Soltys linked to a story about Little League World Series television ratings on his family of networks by noting: “Little League viewing is way up this year. Only the most cynical see something wrong with that.”

Well, just call me the Most Cynical Man in the World.

There’s something that makes me queasy that programming featuring pubescent boys (and two girls) running around a field in an adult presentation is growing in popularity at the same time the network formerly known as The Learning Channel is giddy with excitement over another season of Toddlers & Tiaras, which features post-toddler girls running around a stage in an adult presentation.

From the Biz of Baseball, a site that I presume just regurgitated a release put together by Soltys and his minions. Bolded text is from the site:

ESPN’s opening weekend coverage of the Little League World Series averaged 1,056,000 viewers for eight telecasts, a 60 percent increase over last year’s opening weekend average of 660,000 viewers for six telecasts.  The corresponding household impressions are up 52 percent (837,000 in 2009 vs. 549,000 last year) and the rating is up 50 percent (0.9 this year vs. 0.6 in 2008).

ESPN2’s four telecasts are averaging a 1,219,000 viewers, up 137 percent over the 514,000 viewers last year.  ESPN2’s 0.9 rating are an increase of 125 percent (vs. 0.4 rating in 2008) and household impressions are up 122 percent (898,000 vs. 405,000).

Collectively, ESPN and ESPN2’s Little League World Series coverage generated five telecasts posting a 1.0 rating or higher over the opening’s usage was an increase of 545 percent in total hours during the Little League World Series’ opening weekend when compared to the same weekend in 2008.

ABC’s Saturday broadcast (Warner Robins, Ga. vs. Staten Island, N.Y.) posted a 1.3 overnight rating, up 160 percent over the comparable 0.5 overnight rating a year ago.  Sunday’s Little League World Series broadcast on ABC (Russellville, Ky. vs. San Antonio) generated a 0.9 overnight rating, an increase of 29 percent over last year’s 0.7 overnight rating.

ESPN’s Little League World Series coverage from Williamsport, Pa., is coming off momentum built during the Regional Finals, which demonstrated significant audience growth including:


  • Five telecasts up 19 percent in households (708,000 vs. 596,000 for five telecasts in 2008);
  • a 0.7 average rating, an increase of 17 percent over last year’s 0.6 rating;
  • up 14 percent in viewership (889,000 viewers vs. 779,000).


  • three telecasts up 55 percent among households (721,000 vs. 465,000 for three telecasts in 2008);
  • an increase of 53 percent among viewers (972,000 vs. 635,000);
  • up 40 percent in rating (0.7 vs. 0.5 last year).

ESPN’s coverage of the Little League World Series will continue throughout the week – all 32 games available in HD – including the semifinals and final this weekend (Aug. 29-30) on ABC.

Oooh, in HD! You can see the drops of every tear, the curve of every pimple!

Really, if you don’t have a child or know a child involved, why are you watching the Little League World Series? And don’t tell me because the kids play only for the love of the game, because anyone who has been around youth sports for more than two minutes knows that isn’t true. All you’re doing is encouraging more of this stuff to get on television, like MLB TV’s August foray into televising youth baseball championships.

Or is that what you want? You creepy, creepy television viewer, you.

Written by rkcookjr

August 26, 2009 at 6:05 pm

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?”
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

City slicker knocks hick town's Little League nose out of joint

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“That column was written in New York City!” — “New York City!!!!!!!??????”

Daaaaaaaadgummit, are they hoppin’ mad in Georgia over some snooty big-town writer accusing their Little League team of being bad sports. Imagine that, someone in big, bad New York City saying polite Southerners are the rude ones! Well, I never!

The first round in this media civil war was fired by the New York Post’s sports-moralizer-in-chief, Phil Mushnick, in an Aug. 23 column titled, “Lack of Sportsmanship at LLWS No Surprise.” Mushnick’s lede: “Every August, if you’re interested in gauging our starts-young “sports culture,” especially in the hands of TV, there’s the Little League World Series on ABC/ESPN. It can cure stomach discomfort. By making you sick. ” (Wow, pretty subtle for Mushnick, and the Post.)

Mushnick saved his most pointed finger wag for the coaches of the Georgia team, for how it reacted when a pitcher from the Staten Island, N.Y., team (in the Post’s readership area) tried to intentionally walk one of the Georgia players, and for the ABC crew, which didn’t call the coaches on it.

Saturday, the 12-year-olds representing Georgia were up, 4-1, against the kids from Staten Island when a Georgia batter, being intentionally walked, was at 3-0. But with the catcher again setting up outside and the ball again thrown outside, the batter swung and, of course, missed.

On ABC, Gary Thorne, known for presenting bad guesswork as fact, claimed that the batter “swung at that, just fooling around.”

Oh no,he didn’t. If he had, Georgia’s coach, immediately shown coaching third, would not have responded with silence and a knowing look. It was clear that with Staten Island’s starter’s pitch-count nearing the maximum allowed, 85, the kid had been instructed to swing at 3-0, to increase the total.

Here was another example of adults encouraging kids to forget playing ball and instead try to win by hook or by crook, to exploit every rule, to worm through loopholes.

ABC’s broadcast truck half got it. It cut to a shot of an electric pitch-count board in the outfield, except it focused on the wrong team’s. A close-up showed Georgia’s starter to have thrown 44, when N.Y.’s starter, after that kid swung at 3-0, had reached 77.

Mushnick went on to sprain other fingers while wagging them about the Little League World Series, but no matter. To the state of Georgia, specifically Joe Kovac Jr. of the Telegraph in Macon, them fighting words had already been spoken. Daaaaaaaadgummit, apparently Phil Mushnick doesn’t like winners, especially smarty-pants Southerners outslicking the city slickers. Warner Robins American Little League, the Georgia rep,  won the World Series in 2007, and its girls won the Little League softball World Series a month back, making it the first league to have boys and girls winners.

Kovac Jr. responded today in a column titled, “New York City tabloid says Warner Robins Little Leaguers poor sports.” In case you missed the seething dripping from the phrase “New York City tabloid” — as in, “Big City Asswiper” — Kovac Jr.’s lede was, “Leave it to the New York press to stir up a mild stink over, of all things, the strategic subtleties of Little League baseball.”

Mushnick’s observations came two days after the Georgia boys out-foxed the New Yorkers 6-3 in a contest televised on ABC. Well within the rules of the Little League game, Warner Robins sought to do all it could to up the Mid-Atlantic starting hurler’s pitch count.

Warner Robins leadoff batter Justin Jones, who had cracked a two-run homer earlier in the game, was at the plate with two out in the fourth. The Big Apple squad opted to issue him an intentional pass. Its pitcher tossed three pitchouts to the catcher.

On what would have been ball four, with the Staten Island starter’s pitch count within eight of the 85-pitch, Little League limit, Jones, with the apparent OK from his father, Warner Robins manager and third-base coach Randy Jones, took a half-hearted swing at the unhittable pitch. That ran the count to three balls and a strike, the idea being to chase the strong-throwing starter from the game in hope that a lesser pitcher might come on in relief. Or, perhaps, to even coax the New Yorkers to try their luck and pitch to Jones.

In last year’s regional round in Gulfport, Fla., the Warner Robins team bit on such a move. Its pitcher, facing Tennessee’s mightiest hitter, opted to pitch to the slugger after he took hacks at a pair of would-be ball fours. With the count 3-2, Warner Robins pitched to him and, whammo, saw the ball fly out of the park for a home run.

Saturday, Jones didn’t swing to make it 3-2 and instead walked. The batter behind him struck out to end the inning, but in the next frame the Warner Robins leadoff man went down on strikes, but it spelled the end for the New York starter who’d hit the 85-pitch mark.

Monday evening, during a postgame interview session with reporters after Warner Robins’ 3-2 victory over the Northwest team, the Georgia team’s manager was asked if the New York Post piece was accurate in saying Justin Jones was instructed to swing to increase the pitch tally.

“Do I need my attorney?” Randy Jones deadpanned, drawing laughs from reporters. “The pitch count is a part of the game, and it’s here to stay. And for those who aren’t willing to find strategic ways to use it to their benefit, they will find themselves going home.”

He said he figured to get questions as to the appropriateness of Saturday’s strategizing eventually.

“I think the way that that question was answered the best was by one of the umpires. … Apparently the (New York) coach came out and, as soon as we did that, claimed that I was making a travesty of the game, which is a very broad rule in the book,” Jones said. “But, anyhow, the umpire’s response to him was, ‘I think it’s a travesty that you won’t pitch to the kid.’ So he didn’t say anything else and went back to the dugout. So that took care of that problem.”

You know who is right here? The umpire.

It was a travesty that the Staten Island coaches decided to intentionally walk a player in the fourth inning. You’re not Tony LaRussa. You’re Little League coaches. Just pitch to the kid. Tell your pitcher not to throw him anything hittable, but at least look like you’re trying. Also, congratulations, you’ve just told one of your best pitchers he’s not capable of getting one of the best hitters out. Way to build his confidence. Unless you’re getting a cash bonus for winning this World Series (and if you are, that’s disgusting in its own right), forget the intentional walks unless it’s a real baseball reason — like there are runners on second and third with less than one out.

Georgia, if you think the ump sided with you, you’re wrong. Bascially, he called you out for being rule-bending knuckleheads, too, for cheaply trying to push the Staten Island pitcher to his limit. The ump was saying two wrongs don’t make a right, as in, the only thing more ridiculous than the pitcher trying to walk your guy was your guy swinging at an intentional walk pitch. Oh, and another thing more ridiculous — cheaply trying to use the pitch-count limit against somebody. The spirit of the rule is to keep a kid’s arm from falling off, not so you can game who you get to face.

As for Mushnick and Kovac Jr.:

Mushnick, if you were going to finger-wag, you should have included your homeboys of Staten Island for the intentional walk.

Kovac Jr., you should stop being such a huckleberry about big cities. Then, you should stop talking about the subtleties of Little League managing as if they involve baseball strategy. The biggest subtleties of any youth sports league involve how you develop players, not only their skills but also a love of the game. Not whether you can work the opponent’s pitch count up. Oh, and nice job referring to “a lesser pitcher” on a group of 11- and 12-year-olds. You sound like a heckling parent, daaaaaaaadgummit.

Written by rkcookjr

August 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Girls play baseball, too

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nogirlsYou wouldn’t know it from the rosters at the Little League World Series, but there’s a groundswell growing to let girls play baseball.

Growing only now, you say, 35 years after Little League was forced by lawsuit to allow girls to play? (The ban came into effect after the 1950 season, when a girl posed as a boy named “Tubby” to play in Corning, N.Y.) And what do I mean, “let?” Isn’t this issue settled?

Not by a long shot. Female baseball players are few and far between. In Indiana, the state’s high school athletic association overturned a ban on girls even trying out for baseball only this spring, after determining it would lose a lawsuit. A girl playing high school baseball is still big news. And two different books were published this year explaining the past and current history of baseball authorities at every level being active members of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

Little League would certainly not call itself a member. In 2004, when it had two girls in the World Series, it had a special ceremony to honor female ballplayers. This year, for the second time, the Little League World Series roster features two girls: Katie Reyes of Vancouver, B.C., and Bryn Stonehouse of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia. (Stonehouse, a Katy, Texas, native, plays for a team of expatriates residing in the Saudi Aramco Residential Camp, the fenced-in company town for the world’s largest oil company.) Reyes and Stonehouse brings the number of girls who have played in South Williamsport, Pa., up to 15 all-time. Between 2004 and 2009, there were zero girls in the Little League World Series.

Whether there are girls or whomever on a Little League World Series team has to do with the makeup of the league and the all-stars of the locality that has its tournament run. But that two girls is a rare event is evidence of all the years of banning and otherwise discouraging girls from playing. At Little League age, boys and girls are still competitive physically. Reyes is 5-foot-6, 132 pounds, and Stonehouse is 5-foot-4, 150 pounds — each bigger than many of their teammates. For that matter, my 10-year-old daughter is taller than a few of my 12-year-old son’s friends. If girls were encouraged to play baseball, there is no physical reason they could not compete.

However, since Title IX and Little League lawsuits and whatnot forced organizations and schools to let girls play at all, they have been steered toward the stated equivalent of baseball: softball.

Now, I’m not going to crack on softball. My 10-year-old daughter has played it, and well (she’s a three-time All-Star, if I may brag. And because it’s my blog, I can.) I’ve coached two teams. I know that if a girl is going to get that elusive (and often mythical, given how few actually get them) athletic scholarship for a stick-and-ball sport, it will be softball. Also, socially I can understand why girls would want to play in a sport with other girls, rather than be vastly outnumbered in baseball. Reyes and Stonehouse aren’t rooming with their teammates at the Little League World Series. They’re rooming with each other.

But I understand that baseball and softball are not the same, and that if a girl wants the opportunity to play baseball, she should have it. As it turns out, there are more female-only baseball organizations forming for the benefit of girls who would like to play the sport without having to put up with the male bullshit. Part of the ultimately unsuccessful bid to get baseball back for the 2016 Olympics was to have men’s and women’s baseball events.

Reyes has said she wants to keep playing baseball. Stonehouse, who played softball in the U.S., said she would like to return to the sport. Either is acceptable and should be encouraged. I believe, in the immortal words of “Bad News Bears in Breaking Training:” Let! Them! Play!

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Written by rkcookjr

August 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Play Little League World Series Bingo

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The first pitch has been thrown today for this year’s Little League World Series (formal name: Little League World Series Presented by Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar. That’s Kellogg Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar. Good, and good for you, and we have a lawsuit settlement to prove it.)

You might ask yourself: I’m a grown person, so how can I watch the Little League World Series without feeling like a perv? Well, I’m here with the answer: Little League World Series Bingo.

Just create a card, bingo-style. Then put it on your coffee table, along with your dauber and lucky skull candle. Then, fill in the squares as the item in each box occurs. It’s more fun with more people! I’d recommend either inviting your friends, or crabby old ladies pissed they can no longer smoke at church bingo because of clean air rules. Light ’em if you got ’em, granny!


The beauty of Little League World Series Presented by Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar (“Because we know you fat little fuckers will never touch Special K”) Bingo is that you can customize it to the events over the next 10 days of competition, based on what happens during the games, among the announcing crew or with the old ladies in your living room. So here are some categories to put in your boxes until you add your own twist:

— Brent Musberger says, “You’ve looking liiiiivvveee… .”

— Someone calls the game some variation of “pure.”

— A boy cries.

— A boy’s coach and/or father slaps him for crying.

— A coach cries, and his son slaps him for crying.

— A coach has a mustache.

— A coach has a mustache and glasses.

— A coach has a mustache, glasses and a neck port-wine stain.

— A coach argues with an umpire.

— A coach gets kicked out of the game.

— An umpire kicks a coach out of the game because the man in blue has acted all game like he’s the despotic ruler of the Imperial Palace.

— Kids chase after a home run ball like it’s Barry Bonds’ 756th.

— Grownups chase a home run ball like it’s Barry Bonds’ 756th.

— The retrospective of the Urbandale, Iowa, team begins with a shot of a cornfield. (The one where they get the raw materials for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar. Because who needs sugar when you have high fructose corn syrup?)

— There’s a retrospective of former Little League World Series players who became major-leaguers (and Chris Drury).

— There’s a retrospective of former Little Leage World Series players who became shells of themselves after being pushed by starry-eyed parents and coaches who graduated from the Dusty Baker School of Saving Arms to the edge of their abilities, only to fall apart at a tender age in front of a wide audience (and Danny Almonte). (This is not likely, so you get this category, you’re screwed.)

— A pitcher snaps off a curveball…

— …and his arm snaps off.

— Announcers come up with all sorts of euphemisms so they don’t describe anyone and everyone on the Taiwan team as “inscrutable.”

— The marketing director of a sponsor gets interviewed on the air…

— … and that marketing director is from Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar (“Because they’re Grrrrrr… eh, just OK.)

— A mom is shown cheering.

— A mom is shown crying.

— A mom is shown getting pasted in the face by a line-drive foul.

— Vice President Joe Biden shows up in the booth purportedly to talk about his entry in the Little League’s hall of fame…

— … and President Obama an hour later puts out a statement refuting or trying to explain what he said.

— Fans scream.

— Fans boo the ump.

— Fans dance around in ways that make you wonder if the concession stands sell LLWS-logo emblazoned acid tabs.

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— Someone in the stands holds up a sign that plays off the televising network’s acronym.

— Someone in the stands holds up a sign that plays off their hometown AND the televising network’s acronym.

— A kid looks like he’s 16.

— A kid looks like he’s 8.

— A kid looks like he wasn’t wearing a cup on that play.

— You feel shame you know sideline announcer Moises Arias plays “Rico” on Hannah Montana…

— …because you don’t have a 9-year-old daughter.

— The announcers encourage you to follow Moises Arias’ Twitter posts…

— … followed by the question, “So [announcer/color analyst/sideline reporter who is not Moises Arias], are you a tweeter?” (Sound of everyone in booth chortling.)

— Current or former major-leaguer shows up in the booth…

— … and says, “Why in hell are we televising this? This kids aren’t even teenagers yet! Isn’t this a bit much? Have you no shame?” (This is not likely, so you get this category, you’re screwed.)

Written by rkcookjr

August 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm

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.


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

Jackie Robinson West will not be a big story at the Little League World Series

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Unfortunately, it’s not because in an Obama, post-racial age, a baseball team comprised of African-Americans is not an anomaly.

It’s because the team of 11- and 12-year-olds from the south side of Chicago, the top seed in the Great Lakes Regional finals at Indianapolis, lost 10-4 tonight to fourth-seeded Logan County (Ky.), the only team it didn’t see while going 3-1 in pool play. Logan County, which beat defending Kentucky state champion Bowling Green Eastern to get to the regional round, faces third-seeded Bartholomew County, Ind., Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, which is televising the U.S. regional final games.

Judging by the conversation I had with Bill Haley — son of the league’s founder and father of one of the Jackie Robinson West players — everyone will be disappointed, but not heartbroken. (Sheesh, I was inconsolable after striking out to end my North Muskegon (Mich.) team’s run three games into our local tournament, so I can imagine the kids are feeling pretty broken up after getting so close to South Williamsport, Pa.)

Any team that wins a state championship and gets within two wins of the Little League World Series has had an amazing run. But Haley also said the league’s success isn’t measured by how the all-star team does in the Little League tournament. Success is year after year, getting kids to come out and play, and parents to coach and support them. Heck, that should be the measure of success for any youth league.

Written by rkcookjr

August 13, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Rapid City's Little League success has another South Dakota city seething

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In most things South Dakota, Sioux Falls is king. It’s the biggest city in the state and one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, thanks to your credit card payments. It’s in the politically dominant East River, as in the part of South Dakota east of the Missouri River. But when it comes to baseball, Sioux Falls is constantly in the shadow of smaller, more hickish, West River Rapid City.

As another Rapid City team makes its way to the Central Region finals of the Little League national tournament (this time it’s Harney, which beat Rapid City’s Canyon Lake, the team that in 2008 became South Dakota’s first representative in the Little League World Series), Sioux Falls has had it with those Black Hills bucketheads stealing all the attention. If Rapid City’s 12-year-olds are on ESPN, the rest of the nation might think they’re better, smarter and cuter than the ones in Sioux Falls!

So for some, the Sioux Falls Empire Baseball Association, the existing, independent league, wasn’t good enough.  A few coaches petitioned to start a Little League-affiliated circuit in Sioux Falls (to be fair, so did parents and coaches in other South Dakota cities). Matt Richardson, an assistant coach who is one of the people behind the effort, made no bones about not wanting to play second fiddle to those mouth-breathers across the state: “We are the largest city in South Dakota. We only think it’s fair that we have Little League baseball, because we have just as good, if not better, talent in Sioux Falls than Rapid City has.”

Alas, it’s not so simple to start a Little League circuit. Getting affiliation with the national organization is the easy part. Winning over the hearts and minds of the locals, and field time from the local park district, is hard. The Sioux Falls Park Board is still having the new Little League jump through hoops to show what it makes it so different that it should get precious diamond space at the possible expense of Empire baseball. In February, a few months after the effort started, things were already so bad the local Argus-Leader ran a can’t-we-all-just-get-along editorial.

While Sioux City stews (Stioux City?), Harney is basking in the glory of putting Rapid City on the map, again, by representing how well the state produces and exploits ball-tossing, stick-wielding 11- and 12-year-olds. Suck it, Sioux City!

Written by rkcookjr

August 3, 2009 at 10:33 pm