Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sports at its most pure but should it be on TV

One of my favorite quotes is from a singer-songwriter whose name I have forgotten. She said, "Yes I am a hypocrite, but thankfully they are very tolerant of hypocrites in this town."
So while I am writing this column, I am watching the Little League World Series championship game between Hawaii and Curacao. And I will admit that I watched parts of several games over the last three weeks or so.
It was pretty cool to watch Curacao's Naeem Lourens move from first base to pitcher with the bases loaded and no outs and still find a way out of the first inning with no runs scored. And even more thrilling to watch Hawaii rally to force just the second extra inning game in the event's history before winning it with a walk-off homer. But still, I am not sure just how comfortable I was watching it.
It is entertaining stuff. Good baseball is good baseball. The fundamentals of some of these teams are unbelievable for their ages. At one level it is baseball at its purest level.
And in this age of reality-based television, I suppose it doesn't get any more real. There is real drama.
But still the thought of whether this is a good thing nags at me. Should 11 and 12-year-olds be on television playing a game?
The teams making the semi-finals have been in Williamsport for two weeks. The championship teams have been playing tournament games and on the road for over a month. That’s a long road trip.
While the teams are taken care of, the families are on their own. The Hawaii team had 30 of its fans living together in a eight room house. ABC shared the story of one father who took a $12,000 loan and then quit his job so his family could follow his son. I know without hesitation that my own father would have done the same thing. And so would many of you.
But while it is great drama and fun, does ABC/ESPN need to televise 30 games starting with the regional finals?
It would seem Little League and Williamsport are trying to do it right. The games are free to attend. The concession prices match those at Bohlken Park rather than Jacobs Field. The umpires work for free and take care of their own travel costs. And many of the coaches shown appear to be great role models and are teaching the kids to play the right way whether they win or lose.
To be a kid and play on this stage would be unreal. A dream of a lifetime. But what does having it on television add? Are we now in a culture where if it is not on TV than it is not important? Wouldn’t playing in Lamade Stadium in front of a crowd of 25,000 provide the small thrill?
Do you know you can go to little and not only find a link to the score of each game but a detailed description, box score and, get this, a video of the post game press conference? Is it necessary to not only interview a pre-teen and coach after a game but then beam it to all corners of the world?
And while it is great to watch a dramatic comeback or big home run on network TV where families can Tivo it and watch it for the rest of their lives — think of the other side of the fence. Imagine that error you made when you were 11 becoming part of the historical record.
I have often said the cruelest moment in sports is the OHSAA mandated rule that teams that lose a district/regional/state final be awarded their medals moments after the game. The medals would mean so much more if they were given at a school assembly a week later. I can't tell you how many times I have seen the medals tossed in the trash in a moment of emotion. The teams have to stand there emotionally drained then watch what they worked so hard to get given to someone else. Now subtract six more years of maturity. Having 11 and 12-year-olds perform on a national level seems to be asking a lot. Can you imagine going to school the next week after being on ESPN for two weeks? "Teach, why do I need to know about Lincoln? I am a TV star."
And while you can argue that they are just kids and they are just playing for the love of the game, I am sure many of their parents know what stage they are on. We have seen too many times that kids sports can bring out the worst in adults. Imagine having slow motion video tape proof the ump blew the call.
For years, ABC has shown the championship game and if they can show the National Spelling Bee on TV, they can show the Little League World Series. But isn't a three week television soap opera a little much.
It is an ever changing world. I suppose if big corporations want to sell their products on the backs of little league baseball drama, there is far worse in the world.
I read one headline online that said, "Kids keeping it real in LLWS. Sure, youngsters exploited, but they are playing for the love of the game."
So am I completely comfortable, no. But it was a great game. A blown call led to two runs, but the Hawaiian coach didn't lose his cool, instead he told his kids it was ok. The following at bat, feeding off his calmness, Hawaii homered twice to tie.
The LLWS is what sports should be. I guess the question is does it need to be televised? Without Herold Reynolds’s commentary, wouldn’t it be just as special?