Little League bigger, try to make it better
Watching a manager choose not to play a kid during a regional tournament game on ESPN.
Reading about a softball team disqualified over a flashed obscenity on social media.
A Major League Baseball game amidst the Little League World Series.
No, Little League isn’t the same as it was 30 years ago, when I was watching fellow 12-year-old Aron Garcia on TV become the enduring image of crying in baseball as the losing pitcher in a 21-1 championship game defeat, convinced I was better than that even though I wasn’t.
And it certainly isn’t the same as it was 30 years before that, when Angel Macias was throwing a perfect championship game the same summer my 12-year-old dad walked with his glove across Clearfield to his Kurtz Bros. team practices because my grandparents had no car.
Here we are, on the eve of the 71st Little League World Series in the organization’s 79th year and it’s never been bigger. Maybe it’s a good idea for everyone to try and make it better.
It starts first with the adults. Play everybody, not just because it’s the rules, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s an all-star team. These kids were picked for a reason. Give them a chance to show why, even if there’s doubt.
That’s not what happened earlier this month at the New England regional, when Goffstown, N.H., manager Jim O’Connell subjected himself to a two-game suspension for not using his entire roster when he didnát give a kid his mandatory at-bat in the sixth inning of a 7-6 semifinal loss to South Portland, Maine.
O’Connell told the Portland Press-Herald the player declined an at-bat in the fourth inning, and that putting him in a do-or-die at-bat in the sixth wasn’t fair.
Granted, Little League coaches aren’t public figures used to the spotlight of every baseball decision airing on live TV, but another New Hampshire Little League official said he’d seen similar unsportsmanlike behavior from O’Connell earlier in the summer.
“If it was in our league, he would not be coaching,” Concord LL president Brendon McGahan told the Concord Monitor. “It’s doing the right thing. There’s something morally wrong with what he did.”
Sometimes, the players are wrong, too. The Atlee LL entry from Mechanicsville, Va., was sent home disqualified from the title game of the Junior Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash., after six players were shown flipping their middle fingers on Snapchat.
“They made a wrong decision,” manager Scott Currie told the Richmond Times-Dispatch after the team flew home to banners saying, “All Together Love Embrace Encourage,” and “You are all stars to us.”
“I just wanted everyone to know that this one moment in time doesn’t define this community or these kids,” said Currie.
The punishment was fair. It’s Little League’s tournament, playing it is a privilege, and it’s free to decide who does and doesn’t meet its ideals.
That brings us to Sunday’s MLB Little League Classic. Yes, this is the most unique sports event to hit Bowman Field since Babe Ruth came through. And we all know that, while most of Williamsport could fit inside the Pirates’ PNC Park, Bowman Field’s capacity holds little more than the 2,000 fans the Crosscutters draw on a good night.
So when tickets are first allotted to Little League World Series players and their families, and certain compromises need made to hold a major-league game in a 91-year-old ballpark built for minor-league baseball, there just isn’t going to be much left over for the general public.
Consider it an act of good faith that MLB held a ticket lottery open to Lycoming County residents. Be happy for those lucky enough to get a seat. Don’t be that person whining on Facebook that the thing’s a scam because you don’t personally know anyone who’s getting in, or calling this newspaper demanding to know why certain people got tickets and others did not.
Help this area be the best it can be, and maybe we’ll be lucky to see something like this again.
To quote the late, longtime Lock Haven area sportscaster Harris Lipez, “If you like good sports, be one.”
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at email@example.com.