Newmann: Little goes big
There’s always been that certain something about baseball.
Maybe it stems from the spring/summer roots of the game. Both seasons are geared for a more relaxed tempo than their cooler counterparts.
Or perhaps it’s the unhurried pace of the game. You can sit in the stands, enjoy the game … and seldom feel like you have to rush off to do anything more important.
And then there’s the strategy. It’s subtle and, unlike many other major sports, not based on a fast pace. But something is always going on — especially in tight games. Signs are being flashed, players are shifting according to both hitters and situations. The game is continually fluid.
But even more fun than watching the game is … playing the game. It’s a game played by adults and kids. The skill levels of the top adults are off the charts. And so are their paychecks. Of all the folks playing baseball, there are only 780 active players on Major League rosters.
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But almost every kid who has ever played baseball has, at some stage, had a fleeting (or maybe more than fleeting) moment of imagining themselves playing in “The Show.” They’ve imitated the mannerisms of their heroes, visualized themselves coming through in pressure-packed situations and experienced both the highs and lows of the game.
One experience that really puts the kids on par with their Major League counterparts is the Little League World Series, the kids’ version of “The Show.”
Sixteen All-Star teams, two each from one of the eight regional tournaments, are facing off over 10 days in the double-elimination tourney. Just to make it through the districts and then the regionals to get to the Little League World Series is an incredible accomplishment for these kids. Then comes the pressure of playing on a nationally-televised stage.
And the kids act like … kids. They have a definite joy in the way they play. You’ll see kids with wide grins after making a good play or getting a crucial hit. Or sometimes trying to stifle those grins so they won’t show up the opposition or look too excited (maybe trying to model the behavior of their favorite MLB players). But they all look like they’re really having fun.
Sportsmanship plays a huge role in the Little League World Series. Players will fist-bump the opposition as they run to their dugouts between innings. Pitchers and hitters do not challenge ball and strike calls by the umps (who are all volunteers). Coaches are very supportive and tend to do a great job of calming tense situations.
Two of the more notable players in this year’s Little League World Series are a pitcher and a catcher.
The pitcher is Gavin Weir, a 12-year-old on the South Dakota team. Over his last 43.2 innings, he’s faced 132 batters, given up one hit, no earned runs — and struck out 114 hitters.
The catcher is another 12-year-old, Ella Bruning, who plays on the Texas team. She’s masterful at framing pitches, blocks virtually every ball in the dirt — and has a cannon for an arm.
But all the kids — in a variety of shapes and sizes and ranging in age from 11-12 — are just a blast to watch.
The Series’ semis are on Saturday and the final is Sunday. If you have a chance, tune in to ESPN/ABC over the weekend.
It’s pure sport. And pure joy!
Tom Newmann splits his time between Edwards and Queenstown, New Zealand. He has been going winter-to-winter since 1986. He was also a journalist in Missoula, Montana, at the Missoulian for quite a few years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.