ESPN Little League World Series 2011: Has ESPN Made the Spotlight Too Big?

Bryan Kalbrosky@@BryanKalbroskyCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2011

SOUTH WILLAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 29:  Konan Tomori #28 of the Japan Little League team is hugged by teammates Ryota Norimatsu #15 and Takeshi Saito after hitting a two run homerun in the top of the sixth inning durng the game against the United States on August 29, 2010 in South Willamsport, Pennsylvania. Japan went on to win the Little League World Series Championship 4-1.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The Little League World Series broadcast on ESPN may put pressure on the athletes involved in the sport, but despite their age, these players are benefiting from the experience and learning valuable life lessons.

Ever since I was a child that played Little League baseball, I’ve looked at the game as a metaphor to understand my life. Little League taught me that you win some and you lose some. Little League taught me the power that I had within myself if I exerted my full effort. Little League taught me my own limitations. Little League taught me how to order the best tasting meal at the snack stand, and Little League baseball taught me to brush yourself up and go back up there swinging.   

When you’re a kid, there’s this transcendent, almost magical aura that surrounds baseball. To children across the country, baseball is the very fiber that defines their existence.

Their parents, who have driven many of these same children to practices and games and team parties at Shakey’s, have had the fortune of seeing these same children grow into the people that they are today. As the young athletes continue to practice hard and work at their skills, the parents become as much a part of the game as the children are. 

While many “Little League Parents” are notorious for pushing their children too far, that ignores the actual majority of the population. 

More often than not, the parents are supportive and are dedicated to building a lifelong bond with their children. To discredit these beautiful starting points of a budding relationship due to a minority of obsessive parents is unfair to the family structures of much of the country. Some of the fondest memories of my own childhood come from playing catch with my father at my local Little League field.  

SOUTH WILLAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 28: Kaimana Bartolome #9 of Waipahu, Hawaii looks towards the bench for signs during the game against Pearland, Texas on August 28, 2010 in South Willamsport, Pennsylvania. Waipahu won the United States Championship 10-0. (P
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Little League baseball offers an opportunity for children to stay active, fit, competitive and social while immersing themselves in a rich history of American culture.  

I recognize that the spotlight that ESPN puts on these young athletes can be weighty, and sometimes pushes parents to a dark place that these children should never be exposed to. When scandals such as Danny Almonte's Birth Certificate Controversy arise, stories like that emerge in the press.

The story of someone like Robbie Wilson, a young boy from Washington, becomes lost in the shuffle. Last year, Wilson’s team was facing Texas in an elimination match. The team was up by four runs with only one out left in the game. The coach had decided to ask the players who they would like to pitch the final out of the game.

They chose Wilson, who also happened to be the smallest player on the team. Wilson hadn’t pitched in the entire series, but from the looks of this video, this moment meant more than anything else ever could have for the 5’0” tall 12-year-old.

To see the love and joy on his face after recording the final out on ESPN actually brought me to tears. 

His drooping eye-black brought back fond memories of attempts to emulate the pros. His scrawny and underdog nature reminded me of the pure bliss in the rare moments of my own Little League success. 

It’s moments like these that define why the Little League World Series is such an item in demand this time of year, as ESPN scored over one million viewers in the Little League World Series Opening Weekend. People want to be brought back to their nostalgic memories of Little League, and ESPN—as the worldwide leader in sports—is just capitalizing on the high demand.

In a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke argues that ESPN is putting too much pressure on the young athletes. He feels that the telecast is simply reality television crying children, and that ESPN is wrong to broadcast them as often as they do.

I would argue the exact opposite. What ESPN is doing is very encouraging for children who are looking to have big league dreams, as so many of them do.

If they were anything like I was when I was 12 years old, they spend their afternoons throwing a tattered ball against their garage, catching the ball and dreaming of playing for their favorite big league team. For me, it was the Mets.

Many of these children will never have the actual opportunity to play for a big league organization, and for even more their dream of the road to the show will stop by the time they get to high school. This is likely going to be the biggest stage that they will have the opportunity to play on, and for the parents that spent so much of their life dedicated to watching these children grow, it will mean the world to them.

I’m sorry, Bill Plaschke, but I find myself unable to concede to your point. The Little League World Series is a very exclusive reward for a long road of practices, close games, home runs, heartaches, popsicles, built friendships and life lessons.

If you think it’s worth it to take that reward away once they’ve tasted that beautiful glory, then by all means, I would be happy to let you be the one to break the bad news to the team from Mill Hall, Pennsylvania that is lining up fans by the hundreds to greet the team in the rain. 

Meanwhile, I’ll join the parents of the winning team and watch one of the sixteen broadcasts of the Little League World Series. I promise to smile wholeheartedly when I see the triumphant players from the winning team dog pile on their coach as they celebrate the long road that they’d traveled to get there. The “pressure” from ESPN only makes the games more accessible for the fans at home to root their local team on.  

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