Little League World Series captures our hearts
Updated 4:56 pm, Wednesday, August 21, 2013
A crowd of guys sat in the clubhouse 19th hole last Sunday at a local golf course, doing the customary thing -- reliving their recent round of golf and watching the weekly golf tournament on TV.
However, on another TV mounted over the bar was the Little League World Series game, featuring the kids from Westport. After jumping to a big 7-0 lead against the team from Sammamish, Wash., the opponents were surging back.
By the fifth inning, Westport was clinging to a nerve-biting 9-7 lead. Suddenly, no golfers were talking about the missed putts or the shots that plunked in the sand traps. In fact, they weren't even eye balling the professional golfers on the other TV. We were all absorbed in the Little League World Series being played in Williamsport, Penn.
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I'm a sucker for the LLWS, having been a former coach of a couple of All-Star teams who dreamed of making it to national Little League stage. We won a couple of games, but my teams never got a sniff of the national games -- so few do.
But it was a time that I and the kids will never forget. It's a special time when teammates form incredible bonds as they live and die on the ball field.
The last two innings of the Westport Little League game were exciting as a Yankee/Red Sox game (without the beanings and booings). The camera shots of the parents of the players in the stands are priceless as they look as if they might explode at any second depending on how their kids fare. For the record, hands down, the kids appear to handle all the pressure better than the parents.
One Westport mother cupped her hands in front of her face as she peeked at her son at bat. You could feel her anxiety through the TV screen as she struggled to hold it together, wishing her son would do something good.
The most mind-bending experience for parents is when their kid is pitching. On every pitch, you hold your breath, wishing for the best. When an opponent smacks a base hit or the other team scores a run, you feel your heart sinking and want to run out to hug your child and tell him that he's just playing a game. But what a game it is when it's on national TV.
Even the impartial golfers were now totally absorbed in the game. I admired how Westport reliever Alex Reiner stood on the mound holding Washington scoreless over the last two pressure-filled innings.
Imagine playing in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 people in the stands, hollering and screaming with every pitch when you're accustomed to a handful of spectators (mostly family). It's a moment Reiner will recall for the rest of his life.
When Westport slugger Harry Azadian blasted a three-run home run to build Westport's lead to 9-1, he looked as if his feet never touched the dirt as he rounded the bases.
The crowd in the 19th hole was cheering every Reiner strike that he threw. A couple of golfers yelled at the TV screen that the umpire was squeezing the kid on close calls of balls and strikes.
The appeal of the Little League World Series beats strong in our hearts, especially since most young boys played in their local Little Leagues, which might be the last time many ever were part of an organized team.
For a moment, you wonder how you would have handled all that pressure, if your All-Star team ever won its way to Williamsport. I can still recall batting in a regular season game and how nerve-wracking that could be.
You feel for these kids; and as you follow the games suddenly the Westport Little Leaguers -- Reiner, Azadian, Charlie Roof, and Jack Matheson -- become known names who you root for.
And you watch the heart break on the losing team. We're looking at children, who have exceptional baseball talent at this point, who have to deal with bitter disappointment on national TV. Whoa.
Rest assured, the coaches have to offer a lot of consoling after a loss. In the movie "A League of Their Own," Tom Hanks, playing a grizzled baseball manager of a women's professional baseball team, tells one of his female players that there's no crying in baseball. Well, that's not quite true. Many tears are shed in Little League baseball and beyond.
Suddenly, the Westport team is playing before thousands and TV cameras are shoved in their faces. In essence, we are telling them that this is a huge deal, and winning the title is what it's all about.
As they age, we need to tell them that it was an amazing run for this team, which they can pass on to their kids one day. How many of us played this game, hoping to achieve what they did -- win or lose?
They can almost touch the national championship, and winning it would be amazing. But if that doesn't happen, the Westport Little League team won our hearts and conducted themselves courageously and admirably. They should know that.
And shedding a tear in defeat (if it happens) is not a bad thing. We applaud them regardless of the outcome. They did us proud. Anyone who can distract golfers from reliving their rounds offered us something special.
Frank Szivos is a freelance writer who is pulling for the Westport Little League to win it all. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.