Sunday, August 27, 2006

Baseball Humiliation Fever, CATCH IT! or, There IS crying in baseball, after all.

As if the brutal travel schedules that occupy entire summers and autumns for youngsters these days, and pushy ex-sandlot jock dad coaches ranting and raving like Will Ferrell in KICKING AND SCREAMING aren't enough, this year ESPN has decided to cover the Little League World Series like it's as important as the real deal, the MLB version. I mean, come on...BRENT MUSBERGER? There he sits in rural Pennsylvania, our generation's John Facenda, dramatizing every pitch, every missed cutoff man, every bloop single. Online gambling websites have offered betting lines on the games. A team from Lemont, IL was in the running until last Wednesday, when they lost to a team from Beaverton, OR. The boys gave it their all, and their coach, in post game interviews, sounded like a decent guy in it for the right reasons.

My heart went out then, to the young Lemont player featured on the front page of Thursday's Chicago Tribune sports section. The photo showed some of the Beaverton players celebrating, and a Lemont player bawling his eyes out. I'm sure he'll appreciate showing THAT press clipping to his grandkids years from now.

But it got better (worse). Inside the section, Trib sportswriter Skip Myslenski turned in his account of the contest. It started out all warm and fuzzy. If you didn't see it, check out the
excerpt below. See where it gets ugly.

Hall, whose father, Mike, is the Lemont manager, collapsed in disappointment just beyond first base.

His dreams and those of his teammates were over, cut short by Wednesday night's loss in the U.S. semifinals.

So it was no surprise that Hall stayed there, pounding the earth until an assistant coach rolled him over to face the evening sky.

Hall's hands gripped his batting helmet and long seconds passed before he rose to his feet.

Slowly and clearly in distress, he walked toward his teammates. And there, in front of him, was his father.

They hugged.

"It's tough," the elder Hall said 15 minutes later in an interview room, alternately talking and failing to fight back tears.

"My son came over to me and said, `Dad, I'm sorry.'

"I said, `Mike, you've got nothing to be sorry about. Hey, buddy, I'm proud to have you as my son.' It's been an honor to coach my son. We'll get over it."

What they will be forced to get over is their sloppy loss, which wasted a 14-strikeout performance by Lemont's David Hearne.

He surrendered just one earned run and struck out the side three times but was undone by his teammates' ineffectiveness at the plate and carelessness in the field.

Lemont was no-hit by a pair of Beaverton pitchers and scored its first two runs in the third inning on three walks, two wild pitches, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly.

That was enough to give Hearne the lead, but, as Hall said, "You can't win with no hits ... [and] we threw the ball around a little bit."

Lemont did that in the fourth when center fielder Zak Kutsulis, who had just entered the game, let an apparent Beaverton single hop past him and roll to the fence.

Myslenski goes on with his critical analysis of the game events, but for brevity's sake, we'll spare the rest of the details here. You can check out the article, with registering of course, on the Trib website.

I'm all for reporting on human drama, and getting the story right, but for christ's sake, they're TWELVE YEAR OLDS. They gave it a shot. They made it to the "big dance" as far as Little League is concerned. Why dwell on the negatives, why illustrate the "sloppy play", the missed opportunities? Give the kids a clipping to be proud of, emphasize the fact that in sandlot baseball, as in life, it ain't always about winning and losing.

Earlier last week, another publication wrote about a controversy over village boundary lines and players added to teams that don't qualify, blah blah blah. Come on already. Are we that starved to fill up cable channels and periodicals and webpages that we have to scrutinize Little League teams? What' s next? Steriod tests for sixth graders?

Sure, if there's a twenty year old lying about his age, like on that Latin American team a few years back, something should be done. But come on, let the kids be kids.

Nice job, Skippy. Swing and a miss. His email is: if you'd like to tell him how much you enjoyed his article.


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