ESPN broadcasters share thoughts on the LLWS

An ex-big leaguer broadcasting the Little League World Series knows he didn’t belong here as a kid.

“I couldn’t play like these kids do when I was 12,” John Kruk said. “My language wasn’t fit for the camera.”

Kruk was part of a pregame Little League media discussion Saturday morning with the rest of the ESPN championship weekend broadcast crew of Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson, Jaymee Sire and Marysol Castro.

They agreed, as most from the network have throughout the years here, that the LLWS represents a unique experience apart from the rest of the sports calendar and that the players here frequently show skills beyond their age.

Sometimes that means it’s easy to forget how young they really are.

Peterson said he coaches kids near the same age, and the gap between those kids and these is large.

“At times, you’re corrective here. But to be critical, I can’t do it,” said Peterson, who pitched two years with the Milwaukee Brewers. “I try to find something good, and that’s why the event is so much fun to me. It’s not all puppies and roses, but pointing out the good stuff fundamentally is good.”

These announcers know full well contrary opinions exist, though Ravech said Little League fans on social media tend to be less partisan than fans in the college and pros.

“There’s an awareness of what it’s about. We put the seriousness into perspective,” Ravech said. “It’s Little League. Nobody is getting paid. Errors happen. In the College World Series, if you’re critical or not critical, Kyle and I will see tweets from one school saying ‘How dare you root for that other school.'”

Ravech could be excused for some bias, since this marks the second straight Series where he once worked in the TV station nearest the United States champion. He was in Binghamton, New York, in the late 1980s and then Harrisburg in the early 1990s, which was near last year’s Red Land team. He went to ESPN from Harrisburg.

“Those teams keep showing up, and they’re teams who don’t play ball year-round,” Ravech said. “You have New York and Tennessee. It speaks to the effort about kids wanting to play baseball. You hear about the demise of youth baseball, but this is a neat thing.”

This also is the rare competition that allows for close access to parents and fans by the TV stations. Even though TV cameras routinely find family members of pro and college athletes in other games, sideline reporters work from the sidelines or courtside. Here they roam the stands too, most often with the parents and hometown cheering sections above each dugout.

In what may have been the most serendipitous viral moment of the first week, Sire interviewed pancreatic cancer patient Jen Garcia at the exact moment her son J.T. Garcia hit a home run for the Midwest champ Johnston, Iowa, team. All announcers went silent as Garcia stood and clapped while her son rounded the bases.

“Usually, we try to have a good story and when the person is up to bat, we go there,” Sire said. “It just so happened we had this amazing moment where I interviewed the mom and in that situation we just let the moment happen.

“She gave me a look like, ‘Is it OK if I stand?’ I let it breathe,” Sire said. “Obviously, we want to get her reaction afterward and it was obviously a very special moment.”

And for the less special moments? Kruk said he hears about his share of those too.

“The best is some guy, he basically said we, at ESPN and Little League, are stealing money from these poor kids being on TV. That they should be paid. What a …” Kruk said. “He said he never watches Little League because of that, yet every time that guy has a comment about the game. Then he curses and you say why does he have a comment on everything if he’s not watching? I think he’s more confused than most of us.”