We’ve all been bobbing and weaving, trying to survive the stoppage of life that is the CoronaVirus pandemic, but then came the news that may require a standing-eight count in my corner:
The Little League World Series has been canceled.
The Little League World Series has, for every summer of my aware life, marked a ritual that has kept me 12 years old forever. Probably for you, too.
Every August, the sight of kids from every corner of the country, and now literally every corner of the globe, playing baseball and dreaming of the big moment has taken us all on a magic carpet ride into a forever childhood.
(I speak, of course, of the non-Danny Almonte Little League World Series years. The Danny Almonte Little League World Series took us all on a magic carpet ride into puberty, driving licenses and shaving.)
The LLWS used to only appear on TV the final weekend of the tournament. It would be broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”, and out of nowhere our Lake Tahoe summers would be interrupted by these mythical kids from Irvine, Calif. or Tampa, Fla. or even our Bay Area kids who made it from Danville and Campbell. They’d go up against the seemingly unbeatable machine from Taiwan. Taiwan won five straight when I was nine years old until I was 13 years old. Formative years. Taiwan Little League is etched in my brain — and so is that curly haired kid Cody Webster from Kirkland, Washington after he twirled that shutout and hit a home run to beat Taiwan in 1982. It seemed like a bigger miracle than the one two years earlier on ice in Lake Placid.
As the years went on, ESPN grew big and expanded its brand. Summer programming called, and the LLWS answered. Soon enough, we were getting US regional finals on our TV from San Bernardino and from the mid-Atlantic and from the Midwest and from the Great Lakes. Some thought it an overreach; too much pressure on the kids — not to mention money made by TV with none for the families or kids. Fair arguments, all.
But for most of us watching and dreaming, the product was too good to parse in economic terms. As for pressure, rest assured — kids feel pressure in every athletic endeavor, TV or no TV. It’s part of growing up.
And for the overwhelming most part, the joys outweighed the negatives. It’s baseball played by kids in America in the summertime. You’re going to hear zero complaints from most of us.
So the LLWS for me, and so many others, has turned into a cherished summer tradition. A treasured old Little League friend of mine and I usually text throughout, evaluating strategies and plays laid out by kids and coaches from Warner Robins, Ga. and the Bronx, NY and Midland, Tx and El Cajon, Ca. We get swept up in the games, and the memories.
Why? It’s just 12 year old kids, who often make mistakes. But it’s more, we agreed. It’s a town, a community. It’s friends for life. It’s the world stripped down to innocence, no taxes, no bills, no traffic. It’s hope. It’s the promise of an endless summer, really.
Now, it’s canceled.
It will be back, of course. We are human, we survive. Wars, depressions, viruses. We will play ball again.
Just not this summer. We’re left to wonder: If an American summer happens, and there’s no Little League World Series . . . does it make a sound?