Monday, August 28, 2006

Williamsport Report

The final day of the 10 which America spent at the Little League World Series got a little eerie Monday.
Of course, there were extenuating circumstances which led to the eeriness, such as:
A) A championship game played on a Monday for the first time ever.
B) The in-the-park audience was less than 5,000, rather than something close to 40,000.
C) Overcast skies for the 5 o'clock ballgame created a somber and gray bleakness.
D) Too many teardrops from the little buckos and buckaroos.

The topper of the bizarre-itude was when the Japanese All-Stars were down to their final out in this championship tilt against the Columbus, Georgia All-Stars. In a 2-1 ballgame, the ABC cameras panned the Japan dugout -- and what the viewer at home saw was every tyke crying.
Weirder yet ... the little fella on first base -- Kohsuke Murata -- was full of tears and sobs.
One out to go ... and no one told Kohsuke, "The game's not over yet, Slugger. Hang in there."

What in the name of Yoko Ono were those kids thinking? How did the Japanese manager lose control of his team? Naoyuki Morita was in the batter's box, trying to keep his team alive ... and the only support that his teammates could muster was drowned out by tears and boo-hoos.
What the manager needed to do was to call timeout to settle his team, particularly Little Kohsuke on first base, who, at the time, was representing the tying run.
Rather than coddling the lads, the manager could've made some menacing gestures with the samurai sword which he kept in the equipment bag.
Either that -- or threatened the crybabies by vowing to run them over with a Suzuki Samurai in the parking lot after the game.
Ironically, in his first at-bat of the game, the ABC cameras captured Little Kohsuke in the batter's box, giving a yell each time he dug in before the pitch.
Apparently, in the Zen Rulebook, it says something about a yell releasing tension and calming the nerves.
The Zen Rulebook also says something about wearing a wok on one's head instead of a batting helmet.

It is the finding of this tribunal that Japan needs an equivalent to Sun Tzu and his "Art of War."
America hasn't seen such disappointing behaviour from the Japanese since Mr. Takagi wimped out and handed over control of the Nakatomi Building in L.A. to Hans Gruber and his henchmen.
Blah blah blah, lots of emotion, blah blah blah, the kids worked so hard, blah blah blah, realization that it's all over ('cept, at the time, it WASN'T over), blah blah blah ...
Lost in the shuffle amongst the raw emotion of these pre-teens was the fact that any time a Japanese kid hit a home run during the Series, none of them refrained from hotdogging it to first base with that trademark, hand-wave/start-the-chainsaw, fist-pump action.
Or that circle-the-wagons/Washington Redskins "Fun Bunch" B.S. celebration at home plate on those roundtrippers.
When Japan is happy, it's cute.
Like oragamy.
Or a trip to Benihana.
When Japan is sad, me so sad, too.
Perhaps the video for Mr. Sparkle Dishwashing Soap described it best: "I am disrespectful to dirt! Awe-summ-uh pow-wuh! Join me or die! Can you do any less?"

Not that the Columbus All-Stars were dignified during their postgame celebration. For example, when ESPN's dish-with-a-mike, Erin Andrews, buzzed about for some postgame responses, America's favorite pudgy-faced second baseman (Josh Lester) scared the bejeezus out of us all with a blubbery, difficult-to-understand boo-hoo response which was almost as bad as Bill Mazeroski's weepy, on-stage meltdown at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony a few years ago.
The kid with the game-deciding, two-run jimmy jack (Code Red Cody) was a little better with his "I love you, Dad" tribute in the microphone (due to Sunday's rainout, Pa had to leave Williamsport and return to Georgia).

All of the tears of sorrow mixed with tears of joy had America wishing that one of those Columbus All-Stars would've grabbed the mike from Erin and barked, "Everybody said we couldn't do it! Nobody believed in us, but, we believed in ourselves! We wanted to shock the world! We knew we had to protect this house! Nobody believed in us, but we believed in us! The title is back home on the mainland. Back home in Dixie!"

Playing the lack-of-respect card is a more viable option than the shedding of tears. Alas, this is what happens when to America when it's forced at gunpoint to attend the all-day sensitivity workshop at the Ramada downtown.
Last year's champ -- that merry band of renegades and cut-throats from the island of Oahu -- had to yield to Team Nice from Cuddlytown, USA.
For a nation which invented the 15-yard facemask penalty, this win feels like a loss.
Columbus players were acting as though they'd spent all morning at the Charles M. Noll Funeral Home (located less than one mile from Lamade Stadium ... it's true!).

It was during Columbus' postgame ambivalence that many of us ex-Little Leaguers flashed back to a time when we were that age -- and how, when we ordered paperbacks from the Scholastic Book Club, it was always sports books, sports books, more sports books (and maybe one title from the Encyclopedia Brown series) and we'd read about the life n' times of Hank Aaron or Roger Staubach once the shipments arrived.
In my Joe Namath paperback, there was that passage describing the scene in Super Bowl III when one of Broadway Joe's teammates saw Johnny Unitas hobbling through the twilight of his career and remarked to Joe, "I feel sorry for him."
Replied Joe: "Don't feel sorry for him. If we lose, he won't feel sorry for you."

Remembering that passage and Joe's response was a lot easier than remembering the title of that classic 50-to-80-page easy read.
Probably something original such as "Joe Namath: Portrait of a Champion" or "Super Bowl Joe" or "Broadway Joe: The Winner's Winner."
Something like that.

So, yeah ... without Joe Willie there to tutor those kids about their championship quest, it's good riddance to Columbus and Kawaguchi City and all of the U.S. players named "Dylan" and "Ethan" and to their players named "Mitsubishi Daihatsu."
Besides, Japan already has its World Baseball Classic trophy from last March, so, join me or die, can you do any less?
We'll wipe the slate clean and get a more-stoic victor next August.

For those of us who are diehard Little League enthusiasts (and who enjoy scoping out the player's moms because, well ... ya never know if their failed marriage will coincide with your own failed marriage and well, that Little Leaguer of today could be YOUR step-son tomorrow ... ), the triumph by Columbus, GA respresented the shortcomings of the 60th edition of the LLWS, which definitely wasn't on par with the tourneys of '03, '04 and '05.
We yearned for the days of '03 when Yuutaro Tanaka was leading Japan in the title game with his artful pitching and his Godzilla-riffic homer halfway up the hill in straightaway center field, which elicited a showboat-ish bat flip before the trot around the bases.
That's showboating, not hotdogging.
Two totally different concepts.

The '04 Series was better than '06, despite the fact that undefeated Thousand Oaks (where the Pitchfork spent ages 7 thru 18) lost to Curacao in the title game (and nobody said a word about my sister possibly having dated once or twice the dad of the leadoff batter ... the player's whose uncle, oddly enough, borrowed my glove during our high school practices).
And, no matter how often or blatantly Brent Musburger interferes with a broadcast by adding clutter, even HE couldn't (foul) up last year's insanely-fun championship game (highlighted by the blonde highlights in Vonn Fe'ao's mullet).

ESPN/ABC made this Series choppy and uncomfortable, particularly when the broadcast posse dumbed it down by offering in-depth explanations of the most-basic Little League concepts.
That meant that we got a steady diet of:
"They play six innings in Little League."
"They moved the fences back 20 feet. That fly ball, folks, would've been a home run last year."
"Let's review the 'all-play' rule in case you missed it 10 minutes ago."
"Remember ... they only play six innings in Little League."
"Did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit?"
"And, here's Orel to promote the pilot pitch-count program. Orel?"

Oh, that Opie Taylor.
Hershiser was so earnest in his support for the pitch-count apparatus which'll be in effect next year -- and the so-called "goal" of the program to save the arms of the children.
How nice.
"The children."
We're saving ... "the children."

Good idea ... in theory.
The trouble is, there are scores of young pitchers whose developing 12-year-old rotator cuffs and not-yet-mature elbow tendons will fray, splinter and shred when Coach says, "Timmy, the pilot pitch-count program mandates that you aren't supposed to pitch for the next three days. But, since you're our starting center fielder when you're not on the mound, howzabout you making 100 throws from the outfield to home plate during practice today?
"Oh, and don't ice that elbow or shoulder when you get home. Play some XBox for three or four hours, okay?"

Memo to Hershiser re: "protecting our darlings."
Call it the "pilot poop-count" because, sad but true, hundreds of kids will learn how to blow out their arms on days when they "were resting" (read: not pitching).
Explain to Timmy why he'll be relegated to D-league, slo-pitch softball when he's 23.
That is, if he can lift his throwing arm to chest-level.

Ya gotta admit ... ESPN's "Building Blocks" segments with Orestes and Orel spending 30 seconds of awkwardness with the kids made America feel uncomfortable and creeped out.
To top it off, it's sad that folks with ancestors who migrated to Los Tostadas Unidos from other nations (i.e. "Musberger" ... "Hershiser" ... and "Destrade") struggle to pronounce any names which possess a degree-of-difficulty above "Smith."

Before anyone calls Mushberger, Hurshizzle and D'Estrada "unprofessional," well ... WAIT A SEC! The Pitchfork sez, "Go ahead and call 'em unprofessional."
Here's your victim: Go Matsumoto ... superstar of Kawaguchi City, who, on three occasions was referred to as "MatsuMOTA."
Like Manny Mota.
From Minnesoto.

Actually, Gary Thorne and Eric Karros were in direct violation of "get-the-goddamn-names-right" doctrine on Saturday night during the International final between Japan and Mexico.
Gary Thorne used to be the "voice of the Stanley Cup playoffs" for a lot of us, but he handles those European names ("Afinogenov with the pass from Krivokrasov ... SCORRRRRES!!") better than the Latino ones.
For somebody who, correctly, did not Americanize Dominik Hasek's name by calling him "Hassick" instead of "Hosh-sheck," Gary had a miserable time Sat. nite with an EASY name -- Mexico catcher Jorge Villafranca.
During the pre-game intros offered by each player, the kid distinctly said his last name as "VEE-YUH-franka."
Gare kept saying "villa" (rhymes with "gorilla" or "vanilla").
Amusingly, Karros would get the "vee-yuh" syllables correct, but, on a few occasions, said, "vee-yuh-frank-ohh."

The question is: Why did an all-out scrapper like Villafranca have to be victimized in that manner?
Particularly in hi-def on ESPNHD?
Also, what does it mean that at the same time that the International final was broadcast on ESPN on Sat. nite, Disney's sister station (ABC) was airing (gulp!) ... "Pearl Harbor"?
What the wasabi was that all about?

Funny thing about ESPN/ABC ... in its sports coverage, the networks have been known to bury some quality human-interest angles while bludgeoning us with other ones.
In fact, probably 2.2 percent of America saw that brief, well-done feature on ESPN's Outside The Lines: First Report about Cody Webster, the curly-haired pitcher who led the Kirkland, Wash. all-stars to the championship in 1982.
Since ESPN airs those OTL features at 3:30 p.m. EDT (and then rarely re-airs them), nobody sees some of the network's best material.
Such as Cody describing how his championship win in '82 was more curse than blessing ... and about how many people used to heckle him about his status as a Little League phenom well after he finished playing Little League.
Kids are mean -- but adults are vicious.
At least when Chris Drury led Trumbull, Conn. to the championship in '89, if anyone mouthed off, Drury, as an above-average NHL performer, could have cross-checked big mouths and jackasses into the nearest brick wall or pane of glass.
"Who's your favorite Little Leaguer now, douchebag? I know I just knocked four of your teeth out, but say it! SAYYYYY ITTTT!"

Dry your tears, Kohsuke. There is no dishonor when you give your best effort.
Besides, you got a chance to play against 6-foot-8, 265-lb. Aaron Durley ... the Teen Godzilla of your sport.
And, if it makes ya feel any better, the Nakatomi Building was eventually saved and Mr. Takagi's death was avenged when John McClane wasted Hans Gruber.

John McClane didn't get all weepy and sentimental -- and neither should you.
From here on out, your battlecry is: "Yippee ki-yay, Mothra flogger!"

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