Allow me to begin by saying this: I can’t get enough of Little League baseball.
I live only 25 miles west of South Williamsport, the annual host of the Little League World Series. I rarely miss an opportunity to spend my mid-August days at the beautiful complex that Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium call home.
For two weeks, the Little League World Series pumps life into South Williamsport. It’s estimated that the small town — where only 6,500 locals reside — hosts close to 90,000 visitors during the tournament. The atmosphere, as one might expect, is nothing short of electric.
Even better are the games, which feature supremely-talented 12 and 13-year-olds whose passion for baseball feels unmatched, even by professionals. Their love for the game is obvious and not tarnished by the things that often plague Major League Baseball, namely money and the use of performance enhancing drugs.
My advice: if you ever get the chance to go, please do not hesitate. Experiencing the Little League World Series in person is a must for any sports fan.
Still, I’ve held this same position for years: we need to stop televising the Little League World Series.
The constant media coverage and attention transforms kid baseball players into celebrities. It’s way too much, way too soon.
This summer, we have been introduced to — dare I say — the biggest star in the history of the Little League World Series: Mo’Ne Davis, the first girl since 2004 to make it to Williamsport and the first ever to record a win at the Series.
A member of the Taney Dragons team from Philadelphia, Davis threw a shutout against Tennessee in the opening round and has since captured the hearts of Americans everywhere.
She’s been featured on SportsCenter, she’s had feature articles written about her in any major newspaper you can name, and, on Tuesday, she donned the cover of Sports Illustrated. At 13 years of age!
I’m never not amazed at how well she handles herself in interviews. If I didn’t know any better, I would guess she had just turned 30, not 13. I can assure you that, when I was 13, I did not have the maturity that Mo’Ne Davis possesses today.
But let’s not fool ourselves: the attention isn’t beneficial to her.
I spent last Saturday at the Little League World Series. Moments after the South Dakota-Washington game I was watching ended, I walked down to the batting cages, where, much to my delight, the Pennsylvania team was practicing.
Yet as I approached the Taney Little League team, it became obvious what was happening: Davis, just trying to practice with her teammates, was being bombarded by fans — some of whom were middle-aged men — that were asking for autographs and attempting to take her photo. Overwhelmed, Davis had to be taken away in a golf cart by a team official.
It was sad. No 13-year-old deserves that type of spotlight, especially when the spotlight was never her intention.
Davis even told ESPN’s Karl Ravech in an interview that baseball might only be her third favorite sport. Her ultimate goal? Become the point guard for Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.
In the same interview, she also told Ravech that she doesn’t like the attention that she has been the recipient of this month. Of course she doesn’t. She’s 13 years old and she plays baseball to have fun, not to become a celebrity.
Now I ask: What are the chances that those people — the ones who hovered around Davis last Saturday at the batting cages — would have even been able to recognize her, if it weren’t for the televising of the Little League World Series?
I say slim-to-none.
Of course, Davis isn’t the first player — or even the only one this summer — to receive what I consider to be too much attention.
Some Little Leaguers, including Mexico’s Ruy Martinez, have had their own commercials shown on the Worldwide Leader. Others, like Illinois’ Pierce Jones, have become household names, even if they aren’t on the Mo’Ne Davis level of popularity.
It just doesn’t feel right, and I can’t imagine it will bode well for Little League’s integrity.
I played Little League baseball all my childhood. It was surely one of my childhood’s consistent highlights, but there was one aspect I always hated: the parents.
Many parents go nuts over their Little Leaguers. In my town alone, I have witnessed more than a handful of parents — too many to count, in fact — who use baseball to live through their children. At times, it seems as if they are more invested in the games than their kids are.
Making it worse are the parents’ expectations, none of which are realistic. They all believe that their kid is the next Derek Jeter or the next Clayton Kershaw.
Now, those same parents, whom I guarantee you could find at almost any Little League in this country, are watching the 2014 Little League World Series and are seeing the same things that we are all seeing.
They see that a number of this summer’s Little Leaguers aren’t just kid baseball players, they’re stars. In some cases, like Davis’s, they’re even superstars.
Again, these parents are often crazy and unrealistic. I don’t doubt that they will begin to think that their childrencan be the 2015 Mo’Ne Davis or the 2015 Pierce Jones. They will push their kids even harder, and in doing so will continue to take the real joy out of the sport.
For the kids, baseball will only become more pressure-packed as it becomes more and more about what their parents want and expect than about them — you know, the ones actually playing.
Of course, almost all of these kids will “fail” (in the eyes of their parents) and not reach Williamsport in 2015. But a select few will make up the eight American teams that do qualify for next August’s Little League World Series.
Of those kids, only a handful (or fewer) will become the stars of the 2015 World Series. Weirdly enough, they are the ones I will sympathize with the most, just as I have sympathized with Davis.
They probably won’t garner the extreme recognition that Davis has, but they will become child stars and it will be unhealthy.
At 12 and 13, kids have hardly hit puberty. Yet somehow they are expected to cope with knowing that millions upon millions of strangers know their names?
Sorry, I’m not buying it. I also doubt that many future Little Leaguers will be able to deal with the intense pressure in the same manner as has Davis, who deals with it better than I would have ever thought an eighth grader could.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument that, in 5 years, there’s another Mo’Ne Davis — another female pitcher who, at times, is unhittable and who is constantly discussed over all forms of media.
Let’s also say that this young lady isn’t as mentally tough as Davis. Let’s say she leads her team to the United States Championship, but in the championship she gets rocked and her team is eliminated.
This girl would be emotionally and mentally crushed. For the rest of her childhood, she would have to live with the fact that, not only did she have her worst game on the biggest stage, but also that it was watched live by people all over the country and even around the world.
Again, that doesn’t seem right to me. It doesn’t seem fair. Sure, it’s a hypothetical, but similar scenarios have happened.
For instance, how about the Japanese pitcher who surrendered the walk-off home run to Georgia’s Dalton Carriker in the 2007 World Championship? If Little League parents are bad here, I can’t imagine what they’re like in Japan, where performing poorly could be seen as staining the family honor (editor’s note: it’s an old tradition, but still valid).
There was also the California pitcher who, in the fifth inning, allowed the go-ahead runs and ultimately the winning runs against Japan in last year’s World Championship.
I could go on and on. If you wanted to re-watch past Little League World Series games, you would find a myriad of players who either struck out, gave up hits, or made errors in pivotal moments. You would also find that the cameras often catch players crying after making mistakes.
The truth is that the majority of 12-year-old baseball players cry when they mess up. Heck, I know I did. But I would have been mortified if I knew my tears were seen on national television.
Sure, I realize the benefits of televising the Little League World Series. I must admit that I have genuinely been hoping that this year’s Chicago and Pennsylvania teams — the former of which is an all-black team, the latter a team with a number of black kids — help inspire African-American kids everywhere to give baseball a chance. For years now, basketball and football have prevailed over baseball among black kids, and I view it as a big reason the NBA and NFL have each soared past the MLB in popularity.
But, to me, that isn’t enough to offset all of the bad that comes with putting Little League games, from the regional semifinals to the World Championship, on the ESPN family of networks.
Please, for the well-being of 12-year-olds, get the Little League World Series off my television.