Friday, August 16, 2013

Little league has grown up

The Little League World Series began in 1947. I began playing Little League about 13 years later. There was no t-ball or machine pitch or coach pitch when I played. Our uniforms depended on the generosity of a business sponsor and were one size fits all except they didn't. We played with a couple of wood bats; the sluggers went for the 34 or 36, singles hitters chose the 30.  Bigger bat meant bigger hits. No one knew about the science of bat speed then. I had heard about Williamsport, home of the LLWS, because I lived in New York and it wasn't that far away but it was farther than we traveled then. It might as well been on the west coast. In our minds we might have traveled there, saw ourselves playing for US championship of LL. But, in those days there were no traveling teams, no one of us in our right minds thought we had a chance to play beyond our local league. We had a couple of games a week, a practice, and most afternoons all the guys met at the ballfield for pickup games. No coaches, umps or helmets. Just baseball.  Today you can turn on ESPN and watch former major league ballplayers announcing the games at Williamsport. The teams from all over the world play in a modern day stadium that looks like it draws more fans than the Oakland A's or Tampa Bay Rays do. Their uniforms fit nicely and the teams play like well oiled baseball machines. The players are photographed, interviewed (how did you feel giving up the game winning home run, Johnny?), and they are ON TV! They are 10 and 11 year old celebrities. How do you top that? A few years ago there was a scandal around a dominating pitcher who was actually older than he said he was. Now, LL is going to begin teaching about PEDs to their young players. Anything to gain an advantage. You never know who might juice for a chance to get to Williamsport. The only juice we knew about when I played came from the mouthful of bubble gum each of us was chewing which isn't allowed today on the newer artificial surfaces. We were on grass and dirt. None of us ever got to Williamsport but we didn't miss it either. We played the same game. And loved it.