If you have been following the Little League World Series, Thursday is the greatest day of the year. All the regionals across the country have been completed, so now the action is shifting to Williamsport, where a champion will be crowned on August 24.
Every year, this event seems to get bigger. A lot of that can be attributed to the marketing power of ESPN, but don't dismiss how compelling the action on the field is. The young athletes lay their hearts on the line, sometimes to be disappointed by the results.
There's something pure about watching kids aged 11-13 playing baseball, trying to prove that they are part of the present and future for this great game. Before we start breaking out the national anthems, here is a preview for Day 1 of the 2014 Little League World Series.
|2014 Little League World Series Schedule - Day 1|
|Time (ET)||Team 1||Team 2||TV||Prediction|
|1 p.m.||South Korea||Czech Republic||ESPN||South Korea 7, Czech Republic 4|
|3 p.m.||Illinois||Washington||ESPN||Illinois 4, Washington 2|
|5 p.m.||Puerto Rico||Australia||ESPN2||Puerto Rico 3, Australia 1|
|7 p.m.||South Dakota||Nevada||ESPN2||Nevada 5, South Dakota 4|
All games streaming live on WatchESPN.com.
Day 1 Storylines
Chicago's Return to the Little League World Series
One reason ratings and interest for the Little League World Series could be on the rise this year is due to the inclusion of Chicago's Jackie Robinson West All-Stars. It's not only one of the biggest media markets in the country, but professional sports teams in the Windy City are getting involved.
According to Danny Ecker of ChicagoBusiness.com, the Chicago White Sox are co-hosting an event at the Little League team's field with former White Sox players in attendance.
A large video screen will go up at Jackie Robinson Field near the Morgan Park neighborhood (10700 S. Aberdeen Ave.) for the gathering, which will start at 1:30 p.m. and include former White Sox players and team mascot Southpaw.
"This is a great way for the neighborhood and the city of Chicago to celebrate the accomplishments of this talented group of young men from the Jackie Robinson West Little League," White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement.
Also in Ecker's report, this is the first time since 1983 that a Chicago-based team has qualified for the Little League World Series.
It's also important for the sport of baseball because, as Ecker notes, the team has six players from the White Sox's Amateur City Elite program that is "aimed at reversing a trend of dwindling African-American representation in baseball."
If this team can bring Chicago ratings and encourage more diversity in the game of baseball, then it will be a huge win for everyone involved.
Nevada's Williamsport Debut
For a state that does have a good history of baseball, including a Triple-A team in Las Vegas, it's difficult to imagine that in the 75-year history of the Little League World Series, Nevada has never sent a team to Williamsport.
The kids from Nevada got here in impressive fashion, defeating Pacifica, California, 11-2 in the West Regional Championship on Saturday. They scored nine runs in the first inning en route to making history.
However, all is not perfect with the situation. As The Associated Press noted, via CBS Las Vegas, a rally was held in Mountain Ridge, where the team is from, to raise funds for parents of the players to travel and watch their kids on the biggest stage Little League has to offer.
It's a situation that all the families have to deal with since the Little League organization doesn't pay for families to make the trip, though it's not one that gets a lot of national attention. Hopefully, everything works out for all involved because this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Nevada's first game in the Little League World Series will be the final one of the first day against South Dakota.
On the international side, the most intriguing game of Thursday is between Puerto Rico and Australia. It's a stark contrast in styles, with a potent and powerful Puerto Rico lineup taking on the methodical and pitching-rich Australia team.
En route to Williamsport, Puerto Rico won five of its six games. In four of those wins, the team scored 61 runs, including 14 in the championship game against the Virgin Islands. The pitching wasn't too shabby, either, with three shutouts, but the offense is the club's calling card.
From one extreme to the other, Australia hasn't put up the gaudy run totals that Puerto Rico has, though it did score 22 runs against Canberra. This team makes a living on the mound, with two consecutive one-run victories and four straight regional games holding opponents to three runs or less.
In the battle between the unstoppable force and immovable object, Puerto Rico and Australia is either going to be a blowout for Puerto Rico or a tense, low-scoring affair that Australia wins, with nothing else in-between.
Stats courtesy of LLBWS.org
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!