I know we’ve reached a bit of a lull in the sports conversation when preseason NFL games are being broken down into minutiae and ESPN: The Magazine is ranking college football tunnel entrances in its latest issue. There’s a reason we all hate August.
But I didn’t know it had gotten this bad. This 70-hours-of-Little-League-Baseball-on-a-major-sports-network-over-the-course-of-10-days bad. This the-starting-lineups-are-brought-to-you-by-Camp-Rock-2-presented-by-Disney bad.
Can you conceptualize 70 hours of Little League Baseball? That’s seven hours a day! If you’re an American who watches an average amount of television every day, you cannot watch all the Little League World Series action ESPN is jamming down our throats. When it could be airing PTI and a Mariotti-less Around the Horn!
And yes, I can admit it: I hate the Little League World Series.
The Little League World Series is borderline unwatchable. If I wanted to witness fundamentally unsound baseball, I’d still be paying attention to the Mets. Perhaps I’m growing cynical, but the only things I think about while watching the LLWS are how diabolically the coaches attempt to manipulate the rules (on pitch counts…and ages of players) and the likelihood that several of these pitchers will experience some sort of excruciatingly painful injury in the near future.
I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, you know who loved the Little League World Series? Little League Tim! Sure, baseball wasn’t his game–although he was a three-time Little League All-Star, natch–but Little League Tim did once play for an unstoppable third-grade basketball team, one he could reasonably envision as being the finest collection of third-grade hoopsters in the nation. And if there were a nationally televised tournament to determine that, well, that would have been even cooler than his best friend’s secret stash of Playboys or his cousin’s massive collection of Legos.
But now, I’ve reached a point in life where being good at something for your age doesn’t really impress me. I am so over precocity, ever since it ruined Tiger Woods and LeBron James’ respective self-perceptions and made even my parents well-aware of this Justin Bieber character.
The Little League World Series espouses values that are particularly absent in it. ESPN (and its horde of announcers who can barely hide that they’d rather be ANYWHERE else, and for good reason*) is fond of pointing out the LLWS’ purity. Purity manifested in a contrived and divisive U.S. vs. the world format that favors the hometowners and leads fans to chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” when an American team beats a Japanese one for the title (as happens almost every year).** Or in coaches pulling out the calculator to make sure their star only throws 19 pitches today so he can come back tomorrow.*** Or in everyone in uniforms with matching templates. Or in kids crying on the field because they made an error or can’t get the curve over for a strike or the umpire has a capricious and frequently Eric Greggian wide strike zone.****
*Like you don’t think there’s been a meeting in Bristol where Brent Musburger stormed in and said, “Seriously, guys, I’m the one who pulled that ‘You are watching what greatness is all about’ line back in the ‘80s! Do you know who I am? I invented ‘You are lookin’ live!’ I invented it! And you want me to call this inanity?”
**There was a LLWS commercial a few years back about kids from all over the globe meeting at Lamade Stadium and connecting in some profound, post-racial way. If this is the goal, how come the only time an American team plays an international team is in the Championship? Why not intermingle the whole tournament? This commercial also didn’t exactly move beyond basic stereotyping of the international teams.
***Little League coaches mismanage pitchers at roughly the same rate as Jerry Manuel. Ooh, two Mets’ digs in one post!
****And punches you out with roughly the same enthusiasm as 1980s home plate umpire, Enrico Polazzo.
Winning the LLWS isn’t about teamwork or camaraderie or dedication; it’s about having kids who went through puberty unusually early and a pitcher who can throw the ball particularly fast and doesn’t mind risking the long-term health of his elbow.
The entire event isn’t as much about innocence as it is about the loss of it in a mélange of corporate, commercial, and competitive excess and exploitation. I feel dirtier each and every time I watch these kids play baseball. And I like baseball.
And anyway, this time of year, I’ve got my fill of subpar athletes competing for the love of a sport instead of for money. It’s the WNBA Playoffs, baby!