My love affair with baseball is deep and long-standing. I love all baseball, from T-ball through the Major Leagues. What I love about baseball is the sport itself, the strategy, and the skills players must master to succeed. But what sets baseball apart from other sports, in my mind, are the life lessons it can teach kids. Every year, as the Little League Baseball World Series airs on national TV, I’m reminded anew of everything there is to learn from this game. Our kids played baseball starting at age 5, all the way through high school and into college. I coached their teams. A few years ago, I wrote a book on the subject called The On Deck Circle of Life – 101 Lessons from the Dugout (www.theondeckcircleoflife.com) which I’m thrilled to say continues to be a staple for youth baseball leagues, coaches, and parents.
So, I’ve been addicted, as usual, to this year’s Little League World Series telecasts. There are few things I’m slightly disturbed by in the games, but very few. For example, some kids are spitting like their big-league idols, and some coaches are a little too intense, like their big-league idols. But mostly I love everything about Little League. Here are 10 things I’ve seen on the televised games in the last few days that should make you love kids’ baseball as much as I do:
1. The pitcher from the Mexico team accidentally hit a Chinese-Taipei player with a pitch…and walked over to him at 1st base and apologized. When’s the last time you saw that in the Major Leagues?
2. The best hitter on the California team, a kid with multiple home runs and a batting average of 0.700, bunted with runners on 1st and 2nd base and no outs. It paid off – the throw to 1st base was wild, runs scored. Team comes before personal glory.
3. The players on the Japanese and Chinese-Taipei teams take off their hats whenever their coaches speaks to them, as a sign of respect.
4.The grandfather of the 2nd baseman/pitcher for the New England team died back in New Jersey while the games were going on. All the players on that team “carved” the grandfather’s initials into the dirt of the batter’s box before stepping up to hit.
5. After every game, the players on all teams face their fans in the stands and tip their hats in gratitude for the support they’ve gotten.
6. Major League baseball players from the hometowns of teams in the Little League World Series make telephone conference calls to the kids on “their” team, and send pictures of themselves in Little League hometown uniforms watching their Little League counterparts on TV.
7. Outfielders “hit” their cut-off men and back up the infielders on throws from the catcher. Batters run all the way “through” first base on ground ball outs. Infielders field ground balls from the front instead of from the side. Fundamental skills like those are often lost by the time players make their way through upper echelons of the sport.
8. Players rarely if ever show displeasure with the umpire’s call, and if they do, it’s an almost imperceptible grimace or groan. There is no grandstanding.
9. Players are clearly having fun. More fun when they’re winning, of course. But scenes from off the field, after the game, show even the losing teams running around,laughing, and eating funnel cakes.
10. Baseball is a language unto itself. A universal language. Little League baseball is played in more than 80 countries. At the LL World Series, teams from Curacao face off with teams from Canada, teams from Mexico play teams from China, and the first ever team from Africa (Uganda) competed this year. A Tower of Babel off the field, but on the field strikes are strikes, balls are balls, outs are outs, and home runs are home runs – in every language.