“Why do they have the Little League World Series on ESPN?” asked my roommate as he walked into our apartment in the middle of the afternoon, resting between classes. When you really think about, Little League Baseball itself is not the best baseball in the world; Little League games are prone to error and not as precise as other leagues. And unlike showing high school football or basketball games and showcases that are shown through the year, the players on the fields aren’t a year away from leading a Kentucky team to the NCAA tournament or being the star freshman running back in the SEC. They do not have a scholarship waiting for them upon graduation. The only graduation for these 11-13 Little League players is graduating from junior high to high school. So when my anti-baseball roommate asked that question to my pro-baseball self, I did think for a moment why show the Little League World Series on television.
Then I thought back to Johnson House Elementary School, Clover Field, and Short Beach in Stratford, CT. Even as a little, four year old boy wearing his brother’s old Yankees hat he got the previous year and my father hitting me ground balls from a baseball that had not being the classic white for a long time. Him saying “nice throw” and “good scoop” when I fielded the ball properly and “stay in front of it” and “keep your glove down” when I didn’t. Then when batting, pretending to be Tino Martinez, the Yankees power hitting first baseman with a simple batting stance I could mimic.
Then I thought back years later as a twelve year old in Little League playing at Short Beach. The smell of the ocean permeating the air before and after the games, because during the games all you smell is the white chalk they set down to mark the foul lines in the infield and the greenest grass you’ll ever see. Being stronger than most of the kids, I was placed at third base so I could make the long throw to first and I remember every great throw I made to beat out the runner by half a step.
And finally, I thought back to the year I was selected to the Stratford All-Star team. Running inside to my mom and showing her my white and blue jersey with “Stratford All-Star” across the chest and the number “6” in the back because I was late to practice and they only had a few jerseys left. Her reaction to me making it. The sense of pride that I was no longer the last of the Johnson boys not to make an All-Star team. The fact that I had tried out the previous year and didn’t make it.
Then I look at the little kids on ESPN today. Most of them are not 100 lbs and tend to be only 5’4 or shorter. And while there are those twelve year olds that could easily pass a junior in college by their physique, they remain as youthful as their teammates and opponents they tower over. In the middle of summer, they are traveling the country with their friends and family members and playing baseball in front of massive crowds. For the international teams, they are traveling to a new land that chances are, the vast majority of them have not been to.
All a Little League player dreams about is being in the pros. On the first day of practice when the coach ask you what position are you best at and you say shortstop or center field, it’s not because those are your best positions to play. You pick them because of Mike Trout and Carlos Correa are your favorite players and you wish to imitate them any way possible, from whether or not they slide head first or feet first into a base, to the flavor sunflower seeds they eat during games.
Why do they show the Little League World Series on ESPN? The same reason why The Sandlot is one of the best and quotable child film in recent memory: It’s a mirror to a period in our life where all that matter was the events and happenings on a 225 ft diamond.