This is an article that I've been wanting to write for a while, for one important reason:
Little League Baseball is an entity in which, unlike all the other sports that are covered in the media, whether online, in print or on TV, the vast majority of us can relate to.
For instance, I never played Major League Baseball, or any kind of professional baseball for that matter.
Nor did I ever play in the NFL.
Or the NBA.
And definitely not the NHL.
But I did play Little League Baseball, in 1979 to be precise; I was on the Major Division Dodgers in Santa Monica, CA's Sunset Little League.
While on that team I was part of perhaps the biggest upset in the history of youth sports when we beat the team that was undefeated for nearly two years running one late May afternoon, me getting two hits and scoring a run as the catcher.
To say that was one of the biggest thrills of my childhood, if not the biggest thrill, would be an understatement.
That is why I, and countless others, can relate to what's going on in South Williamsport, PA right now and through August 28th: the Little League World Series.
Because even though around 99 percent of us never got close to playing in Howard J. Lamade Stadium, we did wear that little league patch on the sleeve of our big league-style uniforms as we ran around on that small scale diamond.
And I know that we were all imagining that we were our favorite players (for me it was Dusty Baker), thinking that it was just a matter of time before we played for the Dodgers.
Or the Angels.
Or the Padres.
That's a big part of what's special about the kids' version of our national pastime.
In Southern California's case, Huntington Beach's Ocean View Little League is experiencing that pinnacle and mecca of youth sports, South Williamsport, in the Little League World Series as the West Regional representative as we speak.
They have already won a game, beating Cranston, R.I. 11-0, in pool play, and have looked sharp throughout district and sectional play this summer.
Having been a little league coach for over 15 years, I can imagine how excited the Ocean View folks are, and I totally felt the pain of the team from Red Bluff, CA, whom Ocean View beat in the Regional finals, as they were three outs from a World Series berth themselves.
I'm sure it was an excruciating feeling for those Northern California Champions.
SoCal teams have had a long history of doing well in South Williamsport. They have been in the finals 12 times, Colton, CA being the first in 1954—they have taken home five titles, with Long Beach, CA winning twice in the early 1990s.
Chula Vista, CA, just a short distance from San Diego, was the latest SoCal team to take the big banner, beating Taiwan in 2008.
Now I know that Little league has its issues, such as 12-year-olds throwing curve balls and other breaking stuff, when it's a known fact that those pitches wreck arms at that age.
Not to mention overage pitchers whose coaches fake their ages, like the Bronx's 14-year-old Danny Almonte in 2001, who illegally made batters look stupid in South Williamsport that year, as well as coaches and parents behaving like Bob Knight at every misfortune.
In a recent Los Angeles Times column, Bill Plaschke wrote that televising the regionals and World Series games was a bad thing for the kids, as it takes away their innocence in a sense by airing their games like they were big leaguers.
Though he has a point, in my view this is as pure a thing in American sports as it gets; how many other places that have a capacity of 40,000 let in fans for free?
I know I will be watching at least some, if not all, of the action in South Williamsport these next few days, remembering my days as a player and commenting on how this kid shouldn't have swung at that pitch in the dirt and things like that.
And if you were once a little leaguer, I'm willing to bet that you'll be checking out the games, too.
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