!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Reports from the Nation: Kids' Got Game

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Kids' Got Game

I've been watching some of the Little League World Series lately and it's great for a couple of reasons.

First, it actually is a really for real people from other parts of the world Series. England, Mexico, Guam. . . they've done it this way for a long time. Professional baseball is just not figuring out that this might me interesting.

Then there's the fact that they are showing the LLWS on ESPN, a thing with almost infinite potential for amusement. It's on ESPN with ESPN commentators. I love seeing a twelve year old throw a baseball or swing a bat and hear this professional, TV sports guy voice voice say, "And that one's just outside for ball three" or "You don't see a closed stance like that very often, but he's made good use of it during this series" or "And he just ROCKETS that one over the left field wall." It's all very serious, with a musical theme and and computer graphics during the intro to each game. They even put the scores on the running ticker at the bottom of ESPN. It currently lists NL, AL and LLWS. How special must that feel for those kids?

Last night the brought an injured player into the booth to discuss his fellow players. Sometimes they talked about how a played or practiced, but sometimes they talked about what kind of music he listened. "It says here that 'Riders on the Storm' is his favorite song? Does he really listen to that kind of music?" "Oh, yeah, that's the only kind of music he listens to." There is a lot of interest in favorite players, foods, movies and music. These are, after all, kids. Everyone seems to be truly having a good time. Do they cry when they lose? Sure, but so do pro guys when they lose important playoff games. And unlike the pro guys, these kids don't use a win or a loss to renegotiate a contract or holler at the media. They go back to middle school, they play football and basketball and then they try again next year.

It's surprisingly exciting just to watch the game itself. The players are all different sizes because they're at different parts of the puberty expierence. One guy playing for Venezula is 6'5". And he's twelve! His team's third baseman weights 94 pounds. Many of the pitchers have huge ERAs, (like 10.00) but sometimes nobody can hit them and the guy who's ERA is 3.00 gets eaten alive. They swing a lot, get walked a lot, have head to head games where no one scores for five innings then suddenly, one team scores six runs. They have twelve-year-old threatening pitcher faces and they spit and slide. I even say a guy who holds his hand up like Derek Jeter when he bats. Fantastic.

And really, some of these guys can play. When I watch the LLWS, every now and then I see a throw or a swing, a play fielded or a base covered with such deftness, such ease that I think "That kid could make it." Some of them have a touch of that sense that they're playing a different, easier game. It's the same feeling I get when I see Manny blast one over the monster seats with a swing so fluid it seems every muscle in his body came perfectly into alignment and in that instant, gravity didn't matter. These kids aren't there, but I love to think that someday some of them might be. Wouldn't it have been magical to see LLWS alum Jason Varitek when he was twelve and talking about what his favorite movie was? Would something of his potential have been evident? Probably not, but still. These kids love baseball, they play hard, they carry the devotion to the sport through another generation. I realize that I'm watching the future of the game I love.

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