Every year 16 lucky teams from every corner of the globe get to hop on a plane and come to the most hallowed Little League Baseball fields in the world. Those fields are Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium. They are every Little Leaguer's dream, hope, and last desire to play there. But yet there is something else about this complex nestled in the valleys of Central Pennsylvania that makes it so great. Something about the atmosphere. Maybe it's all the people in one place who just love baseball. Maybe it's all the crazy kids who wear their all-star t-shirts and go up atop the hill behind Lamade and slide down on a piece of cardboard and get all muddy. Maybe it's something else. The baseball being played is just so pure. But do you know why? It's because of two things: steroids and money. There is no talk of steroids. There are no contracts or endorsement deals. It's just pure baseball for a week and a half out of the year. Baseball, nonstop. It is heaven.
Now, yesterday I made the pilgrimage to South Williamsport to see kids I have never heard of and have never seen before play the game Abner Doubleday created only on a smaller scale. I got to see four games yesterday. Two U.S. semifinals and two International semifinals. Little League games are 6 innings long. The Curacao team hit a walk-off home run against the team from Venzuela in the bottom of the seventh inning. Later in the day, the Japanese team hit a walk-off against Chinese Taipei in the bottom of the TENTH inning. Two extra-inning games, one blowout, hundred of hot dogs, lots of cheers and happiness, and some tears later here I am telling you of this hallowed sanctuary that is the Little League Baseball World Series.
I got to see two amazing pitchers. Both lefties. One from Lubbock, Texas and another from Willemsted, Curacao. Now, Little League Baseball is all about protecting their players so they have a pitch count and tear-away bases and neck guards for the catchers. But back to the first: pitch counts. Neither of those great players will be pitching on Saturday in the U.S. and International championship for one reason: they can't. Little League is protecting their players by making them rest between pitching appearances to save their arms. Another thing to love about Little League baseball.
You know, it's great to watch the U.S. teams but there is just something that is even greater when you watch the International teams. They play different. They have more sportsmanship such as going over to first base to ask the kid if he is alright after you beaned him while you were pitching. You don't see that anywhere else but in the International side of the tournament in the LLWS. There's something else about these teams. None of them speak the same language. They come from Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Central America. They all play different brands of baseball. Curacao lays down at least two or three bunts every game. Japan is so fundamentally sound it's uncanny. Venezuela plays with more emotion and fire than anyone else. But the most prepared team comes from these United States. More precisely, Texas. The Southwest coach has his team better prepared than any other. He watches film over and over to figure out who he's going to play where, who's going to pitch, when will he get his subs in (there's a mandatory play rule in LL), etc. That could very well be the reason his team is still playing baseball.
But one last thing that is so great? The World Series players are everywhere. At the stadiums, in the hot dog line, and even in the bathrooms. Little kids come up to meet the players (and Dugout too, can't forget the mascot). But remember, you don't need to speak the same language to know what to do when someone hands you a baseball and a pen. So, if you have never been to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania I suggest you take a day or two and go out and watch the games. I have gone every year for the past five years and it NEVER gets old. It is the greatest form of baseball you'll ever watch. By the way, when was the last time you saw a Major League baseball player sit on the grass and cry because he had just lost a game?