Idol Chatter

little-league_idol.jpgWhen did the Little League World Series become such a pop culture phenomenon? And more importantly, why?
There was a time when–once a year–the Little League World Series final was broadcast nationwide (and then worldwide) from Williamsport, PA. Now, it’s a much, much bigger deal. ESPN has been broadcasting all of the “pool play” games on ESPN and ESPN 2 for about a week now. The semifinals have started, and the primetime broadcasters have moved into town. Even “Sports Center” and “Baseball Tonight” have an anchor desk at Little League World Headquarters. Million-dollar sports icon Brent Musberger (he of the World Series, the Olympics, the NBA Finals, the NCAA Championships) is calling play-by-play! So what’s the attraction? Consider the following negatives:

• These kids aren’t nearly as good as, well, the guys who make the big bucks in the major league.
• These kids aren’t nearly as good as, well, the guys who played in the College World Series.
• These kids aren’t nearly as good as, well, anyone in any development league or international league or, for that matter, minor league.
• Heck, these guys aren’t even as good as the last team in USA Today’s Top 25!
So what, then, is the attraction?
If they’re not as gifted as professional athletes, and if they’re not as mature as them, then the conclusion may be that there’s just something inspiring about the simplicity and purity of youth baseball. These kids have nothing to play for but their team, their city, and their family. They get no money, no performance bonuses, no contract extensions. They have no union. Their coaches spend money to coach, a far cry from the multimillion dollars paid to today’s high profile college (forget professional) sports coaches.
These kids give their all for every game, every inning, every at-bat. They jump up and cheer. They cry. They’re nervous. It shows. It’s perhaps the most human spectacle on television today, and ESPN and ABC know that it captivates viewers who are suckers for anything that’s authentic.
ESPN will broadcast the semi-final games this Saturday at 12:30 and 3 p.m. EST. The finals are Sunday at 3:30. If you’re a purist baseball fan–or perhaps just a purist who loves inspiration–you should tune in. It’s a cleansing experience compared to all the of the lowlights that make up the morale morass of major league sports today. And regardless of who wins or loses, you’ll almost surely be inspired. It’s pure. It’s authentic. It’s what we wish the major leagues offered more of.

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