Now that four days of international swing-n'-ping Little League action is in the books, we've pretty much got a handle of who's who and what's what in South Willy. In fact, matters are shaping up basically as the La-Z-Boy Wing of the GRT Lounge thought they would.
That is, except for what happened to two catchers who we're going to miss dearly during the remainder of the tournament -- Hawaii's Iolana Akau and Italy's Luca Bartolotti.
Akau took the ol' "HBP" in his first AB against Shelton, Connecticut during Friday's initial day of action -- and Iolana's elbow injury (a hairline fracture?) appears as though it'll have him sidelined for the remainder of the tourney.
That sucks -- mostly because we need more catchers named "Iolana" instead of catchers named Yadier and Yorvit.
Now, as far as catchers with cool Italian surnames are concerned (i.e. "Bartolotti"), we've had dozens throughout the years.
Long before the days of PIAZZA, we could always depend on Hall of Famer Yogi BERRA (more World Series titles than anybody), Roy CAMPANELLA (half-black, half-Italian, all-stud), Stan LOPATA ("Stosh" for the Fightin's ... back in the day), Ernie LOMBARDI (the 1938 N.L. MVP whose .342 avg. for the Reds in that year marked the only time that a catcher won a batting title until Joe Mauer in '06), Joe TORRE ("yup" ... that Joe Torre) ...
Unfortunately, since some of our minds are unable to rewind to baseball's Stone Age -- and since our childhood was filled with great Italian names who didn't play catcher ("Amalfitano," "Cangelosi" and "Lemongello") or with the names of paisanos who played every position EXCEPT catcher ("Cianfrocco" and "Santangelo"), we had to rely on saying the the last names of John BOCCABELLA or Chris CANNIZZARO (the only fun the kids have nowadays is the grim prospect of trying to spell Jarrod Saltalamacchia's last name for their Rotisserie drafts -- that is, if anyone still does Rotisserie drafts ever since Fantasy Football devoured everything in its path ... "Houshmanzilli ... put it on the board ... championship!").
Anyway, less than 12 hours after Akau's injury, Italian catcher Bartolotti gave us a priceless Kodak moment when he readied himself for a play at the plate as the potential winning run for Guam was rounding third and the throw was coming in from center field.
The only problem was: The throw ended up hitting the backstop netting somewhere between third and home (roughly 53-77 feet off-target), allowing little slugger, Parish Reyes, to score easily.
As Guam erupted in celebration (in the dugout, in the grandstands and, presumably, back home on that little island in the Pacific), Bartolotti angrily -- and quite mightily for a little fella -- heaved his catcher's mitt at his team's dugout.
During the four different TV replays which ESPN offered, it was a thrill to watch Reyes sprint past home plate as Bartolotti was winding up and completing his rage-filled mitt toss.
Powerful little fella ...
Kids do the darndest things -- which leads us to a lot of darned-serious questions -- issues which must be addressed so that we can provide proper direction for our step-sons on the Little League ballfield (before they quit the game and move onto baseball played on a Wii system as a means to kill some time before headin' to Caitlyn's house and tryin' to get into her blouse/pants).
WHO IS THIS YEAR'S FAVORITE?
Is that "favorite" as in "team most likely to win" -- or "favorite" as in "the pre-teen who makes us smile because he reminds us of ourselves?"
If we're talkin' 'bout the team most-likely to win, Matamoros, Mexico steamrolled most of its opponents in its regional (by scores of 15-0, 9-1, 14-0, 18-0, 3-0, 25-0, 7-0, 11-1, and 12-2 before winning 6-3 in the semis and then avenging that 6-1 loss to Guaymas with a 5-1 victory in the championship game) and the 4-headed Rodriguez wrecking crew is pummeling Pool C (Italy and Guam, the hapless victims). The problem with Mexico, though, is that the kids are wearing green tops with red trim and red undershirt sleeves -- and they wear those full-length red sleeves no matter how hot it might be (go figure).
Hey ... patriotism is great and all that ... and it's nice to incorporate the colors of the nation's flag, but red-n'-green has NEVER been a winning combo.
Just ask the New Jersey Devils of the 1980s.
MESSED-UP COLOR SCHEMES NOTWITHSTANDING, ARE WE HEADED TOWARD A MEXICO-JAPAN INTERNATIONAL FINAL WHICH SNAPS CURACAO'S STREAK OF FIVE CONSECUTIVE BERTHS IN THE INTERNATIONAL FINAL?
Sure looks that way -- especially with the way that Curacao already got some truth shoved down its throat by Mexico (a 6-2 loss in which the Curacaoans pushed across two meaningless runs in its final AB).
Let's face it, Curacao (or "Kerr-occo" as our brutha, Stuart Scott, called 'em last year) is lucky as hell to have won the Caribbean championship (1-0 over Puerto Rico) after what the Puerto Ricans did to the rest of the field ... 37-2 vs. Bermuda, 3-2 vs. the Dominican Republic, 23-5 vs. Jamaica, 10-0 vs. St. Maarten, 4-2 vs. Aruba ...
HOW DO WE QUANTIFY A 37-2 SCORE IN LITTLE LEAGUE?
Well, we don't ... 'cuz Little Leaguers almost never use terms such as "quantify." Yet, if 37-2 sounds bad, then maybe it's best to pretend that we didn't see India's scores from the Asia-Pacific regional: a 30-0 loss to Thailand, a 16-0 loss to Chinese Taipei, a 13-0 loss to Korea, a 42-0 loss to Hong Kong and an 18-0 losss to China.
WITH FIVE LOSSES BY AN AVERAGE SCORE OF 24-0, IS IT SAFE TO ASSUME THAT THE INDIANS FROM INDIA ARE HAVING JUST AS LOUSY A SUMMER AS THE INDIANS FROM CLEVELAND?
That's a safe assumption (although India might be closer to someday winning a LLWS title than Cleveland is to winning a world title).
DOESN'T IT SEEM LAME THAT THE MLB CALLS IT A "WORLD" SERIES WHEN THE ONLY TIME THAT THE COMPETITION WAS OPEN TO "THE WORLD" (IN '06), JAPAN WON THE WORLD TITLE?
SO, WHAT SHOULD WE RE-NAME THE MLB WORLD SERIES?
Something appropriately PC, such as "The United States Professional Baseball Championship Jamboree."
Or "Super Ball MLB."
Or "ESPN's Diamond X-Games (Hosted By ESPN & ESPN2)."
Or "Soon-To-Be-An-Extinct Olympic Sport."
OKAY, ASIDE FROM MEXICO, WHO ELSE IS LOOKIN' LIKE A TEAM WE'RE GOING TO BE WATCHING DURING CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND?
It's tempting to say that those mighty mites from Waipahu's Waipio LL have a legitimate chance because, despite batting only .197 as a team while winning the West Regional, they seem to scratch and claw and find ways to win ballgames. After all, they were no-hit by that team from Pleasanton in regional pool play in San Bernardino, but they scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth -- without a hit, of course -- to win, 2-1. Then, when they played Pleasanton in the regional semis, they beat 'em, 8-0 -- and kids who you might overlook such as Kainoa Fong and Caleb Duhay (not the obvious stars, such as Pikai Winchester and Tanner Tokunaga) definitely came through.
IS IT SAFE TO ASSUME THAT HAWAII HAS CERTAIN INTANGIBLES WHICH GIVE THEM AN ADVANTAGE?
That is a safe assumption -- mostly because they're the only team wearing white cleats ... white New Balance cleats, no less. Not a myth: White shoes always makes the ballplayer look quicker, faster, smoother, better ... like when the Houston Astros' future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio wore white shoes. Possibly a myth: The bats of the Waipio kids from Waipahu were ceremoniously blessed by the ghosts of King Kamehameha, Steve McGarrett and the Goddess of Pelli.
WHAT COULD WORK AGAINST THEM HERE?
Well, in case no one noticed, the bills (brims) of their Wilson batting helmets -- which, by the way, is an improvement over the Wilson headgear from '04, '06, '07 when the two-toned design looked as though a raptor had left its footprint on the helmet area protecting the players' foreheads (the '05 helmets, by the way, were a bad "Star Wars" rip-off) -- appear to be a shade of aqua or turquoise which clashes ever so slightly with the powder-blue/baby-blue/Carolina-blue of their uniform tops. Also, the faded-gold hue on the trim of those uniform tops doesn't exactly match the gray of the baseball pants that all the U.S. teams wear.
WAIT ... IF THEY ARE FROM HAWAII, SHOULDN'T THEY BE WEARING HONOLULU BLUE?
No ... "Honolulu blue," as it were, is the official color reserved for the Detroit Lions. Let's not jinx the children of Waipahu with colors stolen from "the islands."
SPEAKING OF THE ISLANDS, WHICH ISLAND DO THE WAIPIO ALL-STARS FROM WAIPAHU PLAY ON? IS IT TRUE THEY'RE FROM THE ISLAND OF KILA KA'AIHUE?
Kila Ka'aihue isn't an island ... Kila Ka'aihue is a minor leaguer in the K.C. Royals system who'll probably get a call-up when The MLB expands its rosters on Sept.1 -- likely because he's hit more than 30 homers at Double-A and Triple-A this season.
Anyway, the Waipahu's Waipio All-Stars are from Oahu.
OAHU? IS THAT ISLAND ANYWHERE NEAR THE ISLANDS OF NUIMATALOLO AND KAULUKUKUI?
(Sigh) Nuimatalolo and Kaulukukui are not islands. (Ken) "Nuimatalolo" is the first-year head football coach at Navy and (Tim) "Kaulukukui" was a football star in the mid-1930s who remains the only University of Hawaii football player to have his jersey (#32) retired.
NUIMATALOLO AND KAULUKUKUI ARE FUN WORDS TO SAY. HOWEVER, DO THE ALL-STARS FROM WAIPAHU COMPARE FAVORABLY TO THE WORLD CHAMPION EWA BEACH ALL-STARS OF '05?
Not really ... although these Hawaiian children seem a little more huggable than the kids from Oahu of three years ago. And, when we type the term "huggable" it is not to be misconstrued in any shape or form as anything NAMBLA-related.
WHAT U.S. TEAM FROM THE MAINLAND HAS THE GOODS TO WIN IT ALL?
Probably the team from Lafayette, Louisiana. Shortstop/pitcher Kennon Fontenot carries himself much more maturely than your typical 11- or 12-year-old. He's the star who's most-responsible for gettin' the team here, especially since it was he -- when Lafayette was one out away from having its dream season ended in the regional finals -- who hit the home run in the bottom of the sixth to send the game into extras (Lafayette allowed a run in the top of the 7th before scoring twice in the bottom of the 7th against Richmond, Texas for the 8-7 victory).
The Lake Charles All-Stars posted regional pool-play wins of 10-0, 17-0 and 10-0, but they didn't look impressive doing it because they had the worst-looking "uniforms" of all time. It's not worth mentioning how unattractive it was (what's with white t-shirts and white batting helmets?) -- particularly since now that they're in South Willy, the Southwest region champion is decked out in the tops (navy blue w/ gray trim) which actually match the gray baseball pants given to the eight U.S. teams.
For the record, the Southeast champs (which eventual champion Warner Robins, GA was last year) are given the faded yellow tops w/ red trim for their gray trousers, a look that's worse than Mexico's too-much-green-mixed-with-too-much-red.
OKAY -- BUT, WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE NAME "KENNON"?
That's the trend lately. We all remember Kalen Pimental in '05, Keegan Taylor of Portsmouth, NH in '06 and Keaton Allen of the Warner Robins team last year, so a kid named Kennon sorta fits nicely in the progression of Kalen-Keegan-Keaton-Kennon.
Alas, long gone are those traditional American boys names such as "Floyd" or "Clem" or "Rory" or "Preston" or "Dennis" or "Billy Jack."
WHAT ABOUT EDMOND AMERICAAN? IS THAT A TRADITIONAL AMERICAN NAME?
Maybe ... except that Edmond Americaan plays for Curacao. Sometimes, we can't explain how some of the foreign kids get such cool international names.
YOU MEAN LIKE KLAUS MULLER?
Exactly -- considering that Klaus Muller is on the roster for Mexico. "Klaus Muller" is not your traditional Mexican name, as the four Rodriguez boys are quick to point out. Somewhere along the way, some European blood worked its way into Mexico, we presume (probably likelwise for the Mexican kid with the last name "Dragustinovis").
The great thing about the world gathering in South Willy is that ethnic barriers get torn down -- and none of the kids care that Shaquille O'Neal isn't actually Irish and/or that Vladimir Guerrero isn't Russian.
SADLY, WE HAVE TO EXCLUDE "KLAUS" FROM THE KALEN-KEEGAN-KEATON-KENNON PROGRESSION, DON'T WE?
There simply is no other alternative -- just as Japan's Kousuke Shibata ("kooz-kay!") was disqualified last year (because he was too international). All this means, however, is that a window of opportunity has opened for Keelen Obedoza of Hawaii.
SPEAKING OF KEELEN OBEDOZA, WHAT ABOUT THAT 2-RUN HOMER THAT HE SOCKED TONIGHT TO SNAP THE 4-4 TIE AGAINST RAPID CITY?
That was gratifying. In some ways, the swing was reminiscent of a young Bob Watson. Powerful-and-compact ... remember, though: That's the young Bob Watson ... the guy in the batting order who followed Cesar Cedeno and Jimmy Wynn ... "back in the day" ... when we were Little Leaguers ... and we saw African-Americans such as Bob Watson and the Toy Cannon and J.R. Richard playing inside the Astrodome ... back when the Astros were first wearing white shoes to match the pizzazz of their snazzy dark orange, light orange and yellow shirts and their orange caps ... before Enron ruined baseball for all of us ...
GOOD FOR KEELEN OBEDOZA -- BUT, LET'S NOT DOWNPLAY THE HEARTBREAK FOR RAPID CITY. THOSE KIDS PLAYED THEIR ASSES OFF TO GET HERE AND, NOW, IT'S A LONG, DEPRESSING BUSRIDE HOME TO, UMMMM ... TO .... SAY, WHERE THE HELL IS RAPID CITY, ANYWAY?
Less than an hour north on 16 from Custer State Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore and the Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns.
ARE THE SITTING BULL CRYSTAL CAVERNS ANYWHERE NEAR THE SITTING BULL MONUMENT?
No ... that's way up north by Mobridge ... on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
IF THE MODERN-DAY LITTLE LEAGUERS WERE GIVEN AN UNMARKED MAP OF THE UNITED STATES, WOULD MANY OF THEM POINT TO SOUTH DAKOTA?
Probably not. Most of 'em might point to Kansas or Tennessee. Possibly Maine ...
OKAY ... SO IF WE HANDED THAT SAME UNMARKED MAP OF THE U.S. TO THE PARENTS OF THOSE LITTLE LEAGUERS, WHAT STATE WOULD THEY POINT TO?
Well, since the adults are infinitely more educated than their kids, it's likely that they'd work with that "South" angle ... and eventually point to a Southern state, such as Mississippi. Or Alabama ...
SO, IS THIS THE LAST WE'LL EVER HEAR OF SOUTH DAKOTA'S MOUNT RUSHMORE LITTLE LEAGUERS?
Maybe not. Third baseman Bill Hendricks has made a name for himself this month by showin' off his mad skillz on the fiddle. Apparently, Bill -- already unique in the sense that his name is "Bill" and not "Tanner" or "Conner" or "Hunter" -- offered a violin version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" before Rapid City's Midwest final game ... and, then, sometime yesterday (Sun.), he played "The Star-Spangled Banner" before one of the pool-play games.
WHAT'S WITH THE TERM "APPARENTLY"?
Because some of us are unable to remain glued to the TV for all 24 of the pool-play games on ESPN -- and heaven forbid that the Disneyland Sports Empire would give America more than one glimpse of a talented Little Leaguer doing something unique that's non-Little League-related.
AND THAT'S ESPN's FAULT THAT SOME PEOPLE MISSED IT?
Well, y'know, rather than allowing the play-by-play guys to remind us five or six times during the broadcast that "we only play six innings in Little League, folks" (which is comparable to a football play-by-play guy regularly interrupting the flow of a broadcast by informing us that "the team on offense has four 'downs' to advance the ball 10 yards downfield in order to maintain possession ..." -- stop dumbing it down, Espy Network!), maybe -- just maybe -- America could see a replay (or two or three) of Bill Hendricks and his violin.
HEY, IF ESPN WAS GIVEN AN APPROPRIATE NATIVE AMERICAN NAME, SUCH AS CRAZY HORSE OR SITTING BULL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Most likely, something such as Super Lazy Pricks.
SINCE WE DIDN'T SEE IT, DO Y'SPOSE BILL HENDRICKS' VERSION OF OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM ON THE VIOLIN WAS BETTER THAN JIMI HENDRIX'S ELECTRIC-GUITAR VERSION OF THE SAME SONG NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO AT WOODSTOCK?
That's a Hendricks-vs.-Hendrix showdown which we probably shouldn't explore. Let the musicmanship of each performer stand on its own merit.
WHAT ABOUT THE STORIES WE'VE READ WHICH MENTION THAT BILL HENDRICKS, WHO ALSO PLAYS THE SAXOPHONE, HAS SKIPPED TWO GRADES AND WILL BEGIN HIGH SCHOOL IN A FEW WEEKS AS A 12-YEAR-OLD FRESHMAN?
It might put him ahead of guys named Keelen and Kennon in terms or "who'll-get-his-face-on-Mount-Rushmore-first?", but all this does is speed up the process of Bill learning two inescapable truths:
1) That glory comes not to those who can play Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner," but to those who can play either Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" or Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" or Metallica's "Enter Sandman" or the Smiths' "Shoplifters Of The World Unite" or the Beatles' "Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except For Me And My Monkey)" or Guns N' Roses "Welcome To The Jungle" or something (anything) by Smashing Pumpkins or the Foo Fighters -- also ... the big money is for the guys who can master not the violin, but rather the oboe or the glockenspiel and ...
2) High school freshman/sophomore chicks don't care if you're 12 and play a mean fiddle -- all they care about is their i-phones and their Vera Bradley handbags ... and they want to date the bad-ass, 19-year-old junior who can crank it on Madden '09.
SO, THE BILL HENDRICKS STORY ISN'T AN ALL-TIME HEARTWARMER?
It is for us who are not associated with the Canyon Lake Little League. The parents of the other all-stars on the CLLL of RC, S.D. are sooooooo sick of hearing Bill Hendricks-this and Bill Hendricks-that, blah blah blah ...
For example, Tanner Simons' mom probably wants America to know that her son is more than just Bill Hendricks' teammate ... more than just Canyon Lake manager Doug Simons' son ... and that her Tanner is not merely "the other Tanner on the team" just because Tanner Hagen might be receiving more attention for hitting a game-winning single ...
WHAT CAN ALL OF THE MOMS WHOSE SONS ARE TRAPPED IN ALL-STAR ANONYMITY DO WHEN THEIR TEAMMATE IS RECEIVING TOO MUCH PRESS?
Show a little more cleavage when dropping off/picking up Sonny at the ballfield (or button one less button on the blouse when asking Coach how Sonny can improve his game ... when she knows damn well that better play comes from mastering the techniques demonstrated in the Tom Emanski videos ... ).
ADDRESSING THE OVERHYPE ISSUE, ORESTES DESTRADE SEEMS SMITTEN BY JUREMI PROFAR'S BIG BRO, JURICKSON, DOESN'T HE?
It's an "island" thing -- a guy named "Orestes" from an island-nation (Cuba) who spent the best years of his pro career playing on an island-nation (Japan) discussing a guy named "Jurickson" from the island-nation (Curacao) which won the LLWS in '04 and came within three outs of repeating as champs in '05.
"O" SEEMS MIGHTY CONVINCED THAT, ONE DAY, WE WILL ALL BE WATCHING JURICKSON PROFAR IN "THE SHOW."
"O" is well-intentioned and he has, good-naturedly and earnestly, pimped the Profars' prolificness, but, on the other hand, he's also tried to convince us that Italy will return with a more-competitive team some day.
Look ... the only way that Italy will make a statement in Williamsport is if Mussolini's great-great-grandson and some of his pals steal an armored tank and crash it through the front window of the D.Q. 'round the corner from "The Grove."
Seriously ... what we're dealing with is 11- and 12-year-olds, so it's pointless to discuss any potential for The MLB. It's also silly and nonsensical. The LLWS is worthwhile because it's not The MLB (except when Juremi Profar is hittin' another 400-foot homer and then doin' too much posin' and stylin' -- as he did today against a beleaguered Italian pitching staff).
IN OTHER WORDS, IT'S WHAT DeNIRO SAID IT WAS IN "THE FAN," RIGHT?
Precisely. We all remember how Gil Renard -- a sociopath who was also a lousy seller of custom-made knives -- sat in the stands at his son Richie's practice and advised the coach not to throw so hard during BP, growling, "This is LITT-ull leeg. LITT-ull leeg!"
Some of us always appreciated the manner in which Bobby DeNiro personalized that delivery of his lines, re-working "liddle leeg" as "LITT-ull leeg."
IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT "THE FAN" WAS A GRIM, POORLY-CONSTRUCTED MOVIE?
It was a real bottom-of-the-barrel production -- yet, it's always worthy of a once-a-year, fire-up in the DVD player just for some quality laughs (though, for the kids out there, there's nuthin' funny about fatally stabbing a major leaguer while he's taking a sauna).
WASN'T THAT ALWAYS THE PROBLEM WITH THE MOVIE -- HOW IT MISSED THE MARK WITH THE REAL STORY OF LITTLE LEAGUER RICHIE RENARD AND HIS INNER-CONFLICT RE: HIS DAD SLITTING THE THROAT OF JIMMY LANZ (PORTRAYED WITH ELEGANCE AND FLAIR BY JOHN KRUK)?
Well, there was that -- and there was the uneasy moment when Gil (DeNiro) ruined a perfectly-good, father/son, Little League-bonding session in the van ride to Candleshit for Opening Day by informing Richie that "Jason Pelligrini's dad takes it up the ass." That wasn't a very nice thing to tell a LITT-ull Leeger, even if it might be true.
HOLY CRAP! THERE'S NOT A 'PELLIGRINI' ON THE ITALIAN TEAM, IS THERE?
Nope ... but it's interesting that 13 of the 14 players on the team have last names which end with "i." Nuthin' in the Cianfracco/Boccabella genre, but there's Bannin-neee, Bass-seeee, Bocch-eeeeee and the aformentioned Bortolott-teeeee who all play for Manager Bettat-teeeee and Coach Barbara.
Barbara's last name is Zooo-ellll-leeeee ... and she's a coach for Ital-leeeee. Some old-school types might not be accustomed to a girl in the dugout, but, here's the scoop:
Barbara Zuelli has as many wins vs. Michigan and in bowl games as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit did during his "playing" days at Ohio State (an 0-8-1 record). And, she's probably less-menopausal than Corso.
IS SHE THE FIRST BARBARA TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE BALLFIELD? THAT IS, OTHER THAN BARBARA GARBEY?
First of all, Garbey's first name when he was playing for the Tigers in the '80s was "Barbaro" ... same as the racehorse.
On the other hand, there was Neil Chrisley who played some outfield for the Senators (in '57 and '58) and the Tigers ('59 and '60) -- and, believe it or not, his full name was "Barbra O'Neil Chrisley."
No lie ...
WHEN WE GIVE OUR KIDS UNISEX, CROSS-OVER NAMES SUCH AS "JAMIE" OR "TAYLOR" OR "MADISON," DON'T THE TERRORISTS WIN?
The terrorists won a long time ago. The name-game, though, hey ... it's a global problem.
Look at Japan, the nation which gave us Hideki Irabu, Hideki Matsui and Hideki Okajima. The Land of the Rising Sun apparently ran out of Hidekis because, for the past two years, we've seen a roster overwrought with Ryo Kanekubo and Ryo Ogawa (last year) and this year's Ryosuke Hirokawa, Ryohji Kimura, Ryosuke Mariuchi and Ryo Motegi.
DIDN'T DURAN DURAN SING SOMETHING ABOUT HOW "HER NAME IS RYO / AND SHE DANCES ON THE SAND ..."? AND, IS "RYO" THE JAPANESE EQUIVALENT OF "RYAN" OR "ROY"?
Gotta be Ryan.
Nobody names their boy "Roy" any more.
Same deal with the name "Ray" ...
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE NAME "LAUREN"? OUR BUDDY'S DAUGHTER HAS THAT NAME AND WE HAVE ANOTHER BUDDY WHO RECENTLY BROKE UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND, LAUREN ... AND THEN THERE'S THAT CHICK ON "THE HILLS" ... BUT THERE WAS LAURIN PEPPER WHO PITCHED FOR THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES 50 YEARS AGO ... AND THERE'S ALSO LITTLE LAUREN WALLACE, THAT PINT-SIZED, PRE-TEEN, RACECAR BAD-ASS FROM THE TV ADS FOR GEICO.
Let's sort it out -- Laurin Pepper's real name was "Hugh McLaurin Pepper" (which is better than Barbra Laurin Pepper) -- but, notwithstanding that ... ya gotta love Lauren Wallace. The lesson that Lauren Wallace has taught America is that it's okay to have a chick's name as long as you're talkin' tough and then backin' it up.
"Listen! Go-cart track ... grocery store ... those remote-control boats. When it comes to Canyon Lake Little League, the story ends with me putting them into the wall."
FUNNY THING IS, CANYON LAKE OF RAPID CITY GOT HERE BY BEATING COON RAPIDS IN THE MIDWEST REGIONAL TITLE GAME. WAS IT A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING THAT THE COON RAPIDS' SHORTSTOP WITH THE FIRST NAME "ASPEN" DIDN'T MAKE IT TO SOUTH WILLY?
That's a toughie since we don't know if Aspen is a boy or a girl. What we do know is that Aspen is the name of the elementary school which we attended. And the principal's first name was "Loren" (we called him "Mister").
What are the odds?
COULD ASPEN KICK AMERICAAN'S ASS?
How can we know the unknowable (such as if Aspen is a boy or a girl)?
Since Aspen didn't make it to South Willy, we cannot reconcile the Aspen confusion which dwells within.
BILL HENDRICKS DOESN'T HAVE A TEAMMATE NAMED LAUREN/LAURIN/LOREN, BUT HE HAS A TEAMMATE NAMED "LOGAN." IS THAT MASCULINE ENOUGH?
Maybe. Except that most of us who are fascinated by Logans, will focus less on the Logan for Rapid City and zero in on the Logan on the U.S. Olympic volleyball team -- the vastly-talented, easy-on-the-eyes, Stanford-educated Logan Tom.
WE DO HAVE TWO DALTONS IN SOUTH WILLY? WILL EITHER COME CLOSE TO THE ALMOST-BIBLICAL GREATNESS OF DALTON CARRIKER FROM LAST YEAR?
It's hard to forget how Warner Robins became LITT-ull Leeg champions of the world last year once a slightly-above-average player, Dalton Carriker, became a bloodthirsty hittin' machine in South Willy ... battin' .688 (11 for 16) with homers in each of his final four games (the final game of pool play, the U.S. semi, the U.S. final and the bottom-of-the-8th, walk-off job against Japan which assured complete-and-total world domination).
HOW DO WE QUANTIFY DALTON CARRIKER'S PERFORMANCE?
By always remembering (again) that most Little Leaguers don't use the term "quantify." However, we can put Carriker's 6-game hitting fiesta into perspective by remembering that Carriker was only 4 for 15 (.270) in the Southeast Regional.
Simple fact: The reason why Warner Robins reached South Willy was by twice edging Alabama by one run as Kendall Scott put the team on his back (5 gms., 12 for 15, 4 HRs, 3 ribbies in 4 of the 5 gms). Also, Kendall bailed out Dalton in the regional title game with a strong effort pitching in relief of Carriker, who was shaky (footnote: Scott was having a lousy LLWS last year -- 2 for 11 at the plate, a 9.01 ERA on the mound -- until he clutched up with 5.2 IP of shutout relief in the world championship game vs. Japan).
AND ... of all the postseason homers hit by Dalton Carriker, none matched the shot that his teammate, Payton Purvis, hit in South Willy -- when his drive sailed over the fence and hit the forehead of the statue-bust of Howard J. Lamade. That was immmmm-pressive.
THESE YOUNG SLUGGERS AND MOUND PHENOMS ... AREN'T THE BEST HITTERS/PITCHERS SIMPLY THE KIDS WHOSE GROWTH SPURT HAS SPURTED BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE'S?
Quite often not. Some of our most-memorable hurler/sluggers of the past five years -- guys such as Randall Grichuk of Richmond, Texas in '03/'04, Vonn Fe'ao (with the coolest hairdo ever in South Willy ... "frosted mullet") of Hawaii in '05 and Kyle Carter of Columbus, Ga. two years ago were normal-sized kids. And, five years ago, Yuutaro Tanaka ("The Tank") wasn't exceptionally tall (5-foot-6 or so), but he was a little hefty.
THE HOMER THAT "THE TANK" HIT IN THE TITLE GAME LANDED HALFWAY UP THE HILL IN STRAIGHT-AWAY CENTER FIELD AT LAMADE STADIUM. DID THE BLAST THAT MEXICO'S TOMAS CASTILLO HIT YESTERDAY TRAVEL FURTHER?
Nobody who saw The Tank tag that ball in '03 -- which was culminated by the Klesko-esque exaggerated follow-through and bat-flip -- figured that anyone could equal the most-mammoth of mammoth blasts, but Castillo's poke sure surprised a lot of us, especially those dudes seated in their lounge chairs along the plateau when the ball landed at their feet.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LONGBALL ... ABOUT GOIN' YARD ... AT WILLIAMSPORT, ISN'T IT?
Get with the program ... it's about the jimmy jack on all levels, but "goin' yard" begins in Little League. After all, ya don't see a skills competition at the MLB All-Star Game, do ya? Why do ya think Russell Branyan -- the strikeout god from Warner Robins, GA -- has a job in the MLB? It's not because of his knack for hittin' .300 or for the way that he can reach the catcher on the fly with a throw to the plate from shallow RF (thanks for nuthin', Tom Emanski!). As for the kids who cannot clear the fence with their aluminum-enhanced drives, they usually fall prey to ESPN's other, more-popular sports ... Texas Hold 'Em and the Moto-X Games.
SINCE WE'RE HUNG UP ON THE HOMER, WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF 13 BOMBS HIT IN 14 GAMES DURING THE FIRST THREE DAYS OF THIS LLWS FOLLOWED BY 19 HOMERS HIT IN 5 GAMES ON MONDAY?
That's what happens when we dip a little deeper into these mediocre pitching rotations. Most teams have a heroic No. 1 pitcher, a No. 2 guy who's "a scrapper" -- and, then, god knows what. Japan and Mexico appear to be best-suited to provide a few more consistent arms. Ditto for our (predicted) eventual U.S. champion (Lake Charles, La.) with Fontenot (who had 15 strikeouts vs. Mill Creek, Wa.) and Trey Quinn (the somewhat unothodox sidearm pitcher who had a no-no w/ 12 Ks vs. Jeffersonville, Ind.).
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT EITHER FONTENOT OR QUINN COULD ONE DAY BECOME "THE NEXT ART MAHAFFEY"?
Interesting that we should bump into Art Mahaffey again after all these years. He just turned 70 two months ago and, if he was watching the LLWS with his grandkids, we can only imagine the looks of delight and surprise on their little faces when ESPN put a tiny photo of Mahaffey on the TV screen ("That's YOU, Gran'pa!") as Gary Thorne informed America that the former Phillie, wayyyyy back in 1962, was the last pitcher in MLB history to strike out 12 batters and hit a home run in the same game.
WHAT'S THE CONNECTION TO THIS TOURNAMENT?
Well, in yesterday's game in which Tomas Castillo hit that 788-foot home run onto the hillside, teammate Jesus Saucedo had 12 strikeouts and hit a homer. Actually, Saucedo had two homers (a grand slam and a 2-run job) and he struck out all 12 batters he faced (sorry, Italy).
SO, WHAT WE'RE SAYING IS ... ?
... that's right -- if the game hadn't been Mercy Ruled down to 4 innings, Saucedo would've likely hit another two homers (giving him four, as the broadcasters like to say, "for the game") and struck out six more batters (for a total of 18, as the broadcasters like to say, "for the game"). So, without the 10-Run/12-Run Mercy Rule, Gary Thorne would've been saying, "For the game, Jesus Saucedo has four home runs and, for the game, he has 18 strikeouts"). Which would've meant that, as the football broadcasters say, Saucedo was very good on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. "For the game ..."
WOW ... 4 HOMERS AND 18 STRIKEOUTS IN THE SAME GAME. HAS ANY MAJOR LEAGUER DONE THAT?
Not yet -- although it is fascinating how old-school, hard-liners still want to abolish the DH so that we can watch Phillie pitcher Brett Myers work on his .061 career average.
As per the "Tribute To Art Mahaffey," that's a clumsy, steal-a-kiss/cop-a-feel-on-the-dance-floor moment between ESPN and the Elias Sports Bureau.
Sure ... Mahaffey straightened himself out nicely from 11-19 in 1961 to 19-14 in '62 -- but in that 12-strikeout effort, he did allow a pair of homers each to Frank Thomas (not THAT Frank Thomas) and Marvelous Marv Throneberry.
Hence, if ESPN-Elias wanted to hit home a little harder, that could've been accomplished by putting a photo of Rick Wise on the screen as Gary Thorne informed America that it was Wise who, as a Phillie in 1971, became the only player in MLB history to hit two homers while pitching a no-hitter.
IF ESPN HAD CHOSEN THE RICK WISE ANGLE, WOULDN'T THE MAHAFFEY GRANDKIDS HAVE FELT SHORT-CHANGED?
Brokenhearted buckaroos is not the issue here. While grand slams and grandkids seems like a natural fit, we have to address that a no-no w/ two dingers always trumps a grand slam w/ 12 Ks.
SHOULD ESPN HAVE PUT A SMALL PHOTO OF DOCK ELLIS ON THE TV SCREEN AND ALLOWED GARY THORNE TO INFORM AMERICA'S GRANDKIDS THAT THE FORMER PIRATE PITCHER WAS THE LAST PLAYER TO HURL A NO-HITTER WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LSD?
Look ... we don't know that Dock Ellis actually dropped acid and still possessed the faculties to pitch a no-no, although we do know that "Dock" was his real first name, unlike George Medich, who became known as "Doc" because he really did go to med school and unlike Dwight Gooden, who was known as "Doc" because he became the doctor of cocaine.
Fortunately, Little League parents have breathed a collective sigh of relief that today's kids are no longer gettin' recreational with LSD or HGH or the Crystal Drano under the kitchen sink. Today's kids are clean ('cept maybe for some recently-smoked weed or that baggie of Ecstasy in their backpack, next to the cough syrup which'll be added to something else on Fri. nite after the big game ... ) ... which is why they're all wearing that patch on their left sleeve: I WILL NOT CHEAT!
HAS ANYONE DEFINED THE TERM 'CHEAT'?
Sure ... ex-Prez Bubba Clinton did almost 10 years ago when he cleaned up America forever and told Little Leaguers far n' wide that he did not have sexual relations with that woman.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO REAL SLOGANS SUCH AS "DIGA NO A LAS DROGAS" AND "QUITTERS NEVER CHEAT; CHEATERS NEVER QUIT" AND "HUGS, NOT DRUGS"?
Those are older than an LSD high whereupon an ex-Little Leaguer can see sounds and smell colors. Technically, just by using an aluminum bat, every LITT-ull Leeger is cheating ... cheating the sandlots stars, the stickball heroes and the gamers who spent all those afternoons at Aspen Elementary School playing Over The Line while using wooden sticks, not a $255 DeMarini that Mom bought at Dick's Sporting Goods.
SO, ARE ALUMINUM-MANUFACTURED HOMERS LEGIT?
God, no. Take, for example, that game-winner that Dalton Carriker hit to beat Japan in the championship game last year. That was an awful-lookin' home-run swing, considering that, like most LL'ers, Carriker was guessing, swinging late and "ping!" ... see ya! Ballgame! (The look of surprise on Carriker's face said it all. "Wow, that defensive swing that I just took resulted in a pop fly which won the world championship! Now I get to talk to Erin Andrews' jugs, hot dog! I wish I could text-message someone as I trot around the bases!") The aluminum bats enable the kids to get away with a myriad of hitting mistakes (swinging late, stepping in the bucket, etc ...). The instructional video inside our brains tells us that a really good hitter locks in, looks for a pitch he can turn into a line drive, takes an aggressive swing and pulls the pitch -- the total opposite of today's dainty, I'm-tryin'-Mama, passive swings which result in the lofting of a little lollipops which flutter over the fence.
IS ESPN CULPABLE IN THIS HOME RUN CONSPIRACY?
Well, the Disneyland Sports Channel didn't build the ballparks with the outfield fence at 205 feet (until it was moved back to 225 two years ago). However, when ESPN starts hittin' us with those MLB/LLWS comparison/conversions, it gets mighty amusing.
IN WHAT WAYS?
Simple math, based on the formula that Little League's dimensions are two-thirds that of the MLB's (60 feet between the bases for the kids, compared to 90 feet for the adults).
Since all of these 11- and 12-year-olds are finishing up elementary school (except the home-schooled kids with IQs of 160), we don't need to play "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" to realize that a center-field fence which is situated 225 feet from home plate, converts to a major-league stadium which measures only 337 feet to straight-away CF (note: when the LL fence was 205 all the way around -- foul lines, power alleys and CF -- the LL/MLB conversion was 307 to CF ... meaning that if Ryan Howard played in a stadium where it was 307 to CF, he'd hit 118 homers every year -- not so for Russell Branyan because there is no conversion rate for strikeouts-to-300-foot-flyballs).
IS THE IMPLICATION HERE THAT DISNEYLAND SCIENCE IS OFF-BASE?
It's misleading ... which is what you'd expect from ESPN, The Worldwide Misleader. We're fed that crap about a 71 MPH fastball thrown by a kid from a distance of 46 feet somehow translates to a MLB fastball of 95 MPH or 105 MPH, blah blah blah ... Yet, we have no data available as to the rate of speed (MPH) that Luca Bartolottti's mitt was traveling when it was hurled in disgust at the Italy dugout (prediction: 144 MPH).
ANY OTHER DISINFORMATION OUT THERE?
Sure ... we never get a tale-of-the-tape when one of those kids hits a homer at Volunteer Stadium which clears the outfield fence, the hedge, the short chain-link fence and the taller chain-link fence (or one which clears the scoreboard). We can estimate that the ball which travels 333 feet, which, using our conversion table (333 multiplied by 1.5), measures out to an MLB 500-foot home run.
CAN WE HAVE FUN WITH THAT "CONVERSION" TABLE IN OTHER WAYS?
Definitely. Look at Cameron Durley, the baseball star from the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia (a program which is appearing in its 9th consecutive LLWS, which means it must be a really, really, really good program).
Well, we all remember Cameron's big bro, Aaron, who debuted in South Willy three years ago as a 6-5 / 238-lb. 11-year old who ... and, then, a year later, invaded South Willy supersized at 6-8 / 253 (they say he's 6-10 now as a 14-year-old).
Well, if we work within the ESPN "conversion" perameters (that everything MLB is one-and-a-half times larger than LL), then Cameron Durley -- at 6-2/238 -- on a Little League field converts to a Major Leaguer who is 9-foot-3, 357 lbs.
According to ESPN. Whereas it's not Godzilla-sized, as we stated three years ago, 9-foot-3, 357-lb. Cameron Durley is the size of a sasquatch or a yeti.
357 LBS. ... ISN"T THAT ROUGHLY 100 LBS. LESS THAN JARED WEIGHED BEFORE HE STARTED GULPING DOWN SUBWAY SANDWICHES?
Somethin' like that. And ... Subway is a proud sponsor of the LLWS, just as Frosted Flakes is.
WAIT ... IS KELLOGG'S A SPONSOR -- OR ONLY FROSTED FLAKES?
Who knows? What we do know is that Campbell's Soup couldn't be a sponsor because those little boys' tummies are not ready yet to handle the power of Campbell's Chunky Fully-Loaded (which most of us adults wash down with straight vodka and Pall Malls).
Kellogg's may have some issues ... or else we'd have some cool commercials for Kellogg's Pop Tarts and/or Kellogg's Honey Smacks (which, when we were in Little League, was known as Sugar Smacks ... but, in this P.C. world, the word "sugar" has been outlawed ... in fact, there's no empirical data handy which proves that flakes of corn covered with sugary frosting are any better for us than sweetened puffed rice -- which is why it's probably wisest to stick with hearty General Mills cereals which made America great (i.e. Cheerios and Wheaties).
HEY ... REMEMBER THE FROSTED FLAKES COMMERCIAL DURING LAST YEAR'S LLWS WHEN WE SAW THOSE TWO GUYS IN STREET CLOTHES ON THE TENNIS COURT AND THEY WERE VOLLEYING A BASEBALL BY USING WOOD BATS ... UNTIL THAT ONE GUY ENDED THE FUN BY BELTING THE BALL OVER THE FENCE?
Yeah ... that was a way cool commercial. Guys playin' tennis with baseball bats ... Sure, it was probably CGI'ed, but it was well-done. Definitely more-realistic than the latest Subway ads.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THEM?
Well, Jared is standing with six Little Leaguers -- and three of those kids are African-American.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT?
Well, in a rush to be P.C., the ad wizards didn't read the unofficial, non-existent, unwritten literature which states quite clearly that African-American kids were banned from the Little League World Series at about the same time that the mention of the word "sugar" was outlawed in the U.S.
THAT'S NOT TRUE, IS IT?
Math quiz! Every now and then, there's one black kid (sometimes two) among the 112 or so kids in the 8-team U.S. bracket. In '04, we had those two black kids on the Preston, MD LL team (Davonta DeShields and Thomas Howe) and then, last year, we had that kid on the Coon Rapids, MN team (Dominic Reff ... who tore up the Midwest Regional w. five homers) -- and that's it for the past five LLWS (unless there's 1 or 2 kids we're forgetting).
WHAT'S THAT ADD UP TO?
Without the ESPN super-converter, it's 112 roster spots multiplied by five years ... 560 total players, three black kids ... which is 0.5 percent.
HOW DO WE FIX THAT?
We don't ... that's Subway's mission, not ours. It's just the way it is nowadays ... yet, it has to leave an empty feeling inside of that pinch-runner for Stanford University's baseball team, Wande Olabisi (who is not to be confused for Stanford Football DB, Wopamo Osaisai), when he's watching LLWS games and has no black role models to follow.
TAMPA HAS A TEAM HERE -- AND, SAY, HASN'T THE TAMPA AREA GIVEN US SOME EXCELLENT BLACK BALLPLAYERS OVER THE YEARS?
Sure ... in the very distant past. Let's see ... there was Fred McGriff outta Jefferson High in '81, Gooden from Hillsborough High in '82 and Gary Sheffield from Hillsborough in '86 (who was on one or both of the Tampa LL teams which played for the world championship -- and lost both times -- in '80 and '81).
THERE WEREN'T ANY BLACK PLAYERS ON TAMPA'S CITRUS PARK TEAM WHICH BEAT BILL HENDRICKS, THE TWO TANNERS AND RAPID CITY, 10-0, IN THE VERY FIRST GAME OF THIS TOURNAMENT, WERE THERE?
WELL, REGARDLESS, DOES TAMPA APPEAR QUALIFIED TO ADD TO THE CITY'S RECENT SPORTS LEGACY?
For a city which 30 years ago had nuthin' but Little League and a horrible-excuse-for-an-NFL-expansion-team-in-Creamsicle-colored-jerseys, indeed, it's been a haven for one-hit wonders ... from the Super Bowl title in Feb. '03 to a Stanley Cup title in June '04 to the NCAA Women's Final Four in Apr. '08 to a rejuvenated MLB franchise in '08 to an always-competitive Arena Football League organization.
Citrus Park LL? An afterthought -- despite the delicious talents of the McCullers Brothers.
The sons of Lance McCullers ... the player who helped the Phillies reach the '83 World Series.
That's right ... we're creeping up on the 25th anniversary of that final day of August 1983 when the Phillies acquired Sixto Lezcano and a player to be named later from the Padres for four players to be named later.
IN OTHER WORDS, SIXTO WAS PART OF A 6-PLAYER TRADE AND 5 OF THE PLAYERS WERE NAMED LATER?
Right ... and Lance McCullers was one of those PTBNL's. He was the Phillies' 2nd-round draft choice in the June '82 draft (current Pirates manager John Russell was the Phils' 1st-round choice that year ... the same draft which saw McCullers teammate at Tampa's Catholic High, Rich Monteleone, get drafted in the 1st round by Detroit).
ANY REGRETS OVER DEALING AWAY PROSPECTS FOR A RENT-A-PLAYER?
Sixto seemed worth it at the time, although it was fascinating the way that Lezcano never seemed to respond to the honor of manager Paul Owens often batting him in the cleanup spot or in the No. 5 spot, often between Schmidty and Sarge.
THAT WAS WEIRD WASN'T IT?
Sure was. Y'know, Sixto was a reasonable contact hitter, but nobody had envisioned him coming to Philly and reliving his '79 season (28 HR, 101 RBI) for the Brew Crew, so, in reality, he was more suited to a role as a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter ... but, then, The Pope kept batting him cleanup -- except for the day in Wrigley when the Phils clinched the N.L. East flag with that 13-6 win as Joe Morgan went 4 for 4 and -- get this -- Bo Diaz, of all people, went 5 for 5 (bizarre, considering that both players went into the game hittin' in the .220s).
DOES ANYBODY REMEMBER SIXTO'S ONLY HOMER IN PHILLIE PINSTRIPES DURING THAT '83 SEASON?
We diehards do. Game 4 of the '83 NLCS vs. the hated L.A. Dod-jerks ... a team which had an 11-1 record against the Phils during the regular season ... the organization which had tormented Philly so miserably to end '77 and '78 ... now, the Phils were one win from the Series -- and matters were looking mighty good early when Schmidty and Sixto hit 2-out singles in the first inning to precede Sarge's 3-run blast, albeit when the Phils had that 4-1 lead in the 5th after Schmidty's RBI double chased Jerry Reuss, Sixto was asked to bunt Schmidty to third. In other words, The Pope needed Sixto to become SAC-to.
Of course ... Sixto was a highly-trained profesisonal back then. And, in the inning following that sac bunt, Schmidty hit a two-out single and Sixto was given the green light to swing from the heels if he so desired. His two-run homer was the icing on the 7-1 victory that dmEE^^3>kk((
ARE WE NOT SIDETRACKED?
Well, either we re-enact and re-construct "Sixto's Golden Phillie Moments" or else we'll have to spend time breakin' down how Austin and Ryan McCullers went a combined 0 for 4 vs. Rapid City while the rest of the team went 8 for 16.
WHY IS IT THAT FLORIDA TEAMS HAVEN'T WON HERE?
It's a mystery ... 0-6 all-time in LLWS finals (Tampa lost in '75, '80 and '81 ... Alatamonte Springs lost in '84 ... Apopka lost in '01 ... and Boynton Beach was flattened by "The Tank" in '03 ... ).
IT LOOKS AS THOUGH LANCE McCULLERS IS THIS YEAR'S ONLY BIG-NAME DAD, COMING ON THE HEELS OF THE FLORIDA TEAM FROM MAITLAND WHICH HAD DANTE BICHETTE'S KID AND MIKE STANLEY'S KID THREE YEARS AGO. LAST YEAR, WE SAW NEIL LOMAX'S KID AND CLAY BELLINGER'S KID PLAYIN' FOR DIFFERENT TEAMS, SO ... ANY CELEBS THIS YEAR?
Other than Lance McCullers (who, in his prime -- with some respectable years w/ the Pods n' the Yanks -- was a hunk), well ... no. And, since the all-stars representing Lubbock were defeated in the regional, there'll be no repeat of last year when Bobby Knight showed up and hogged the spotlight away from a gritty little gamer named Zane Ancell.
Bobby's notorious for that ... exploiting the fawning ESPN studio hosts (that's you, Ravech) and then pimping his Army teams from the late '60s with a non-applicable comparison ("that Zane Ancell reminds me of a kid who played for me at Army, blah blah blah ...")
IS THERE ANY MERIT TO THE CLAIM THAT, IF WE GOING TO GET ALL GEEKED ABOUT THIS ANNUAL YOUTH BASEBALL EXTRAVAGANZA, THEN SHOULDN'T WE ALSO OFFER THE SAME RESPECT TO POP WARNER FOOTBALL, BOBBY SOX SOFTBALL, AAU HOOPS OR AYSO SOCCER?
Such gripes are baseless. There'll always be something to grumble about -- such as why all but two or three Japanese players listed Dice-K as their favorite player, somehow forgetting that Aki Iwamura of the Devil Rays also was a member of that 2006 World Baseball Classic championship team (back when he bleached his tips).
IS THAT THE GREATEST DISAPPOINTMENT ... THAT PEOPLE HAVE FORGOTTEN ALL THAT AKI IWAMURA HAS GIVEN TO THE GAME?
That's only one facet. Another is that this group of kids has been deprived of bein' eye-level with Erin Andrews' ta-ta's, although Stacey Dales (from Canada!) usually wears blouses which accentuate that blouse-meat magic. Additionally, the kids in South Willy should thank god that they got Stacey -- rather than what ESPN does duing X-game time when that black dude, Sal Masekela, is hijacked from the E! channel so that he can ask white-boy/white-gal skateboarders and snow-mobilists classic questions and use "bra" instead of "bro."
WHAT ELSE HURTS THIS YEAR'S LLWS?
That White Hall, Ark. didn't win the Southwest Regional, thus denying America the opportunity to see centerfielder Hayden Scallion. Same deal for the team from Cherokee, Kansas (with Caleb I, Caleb II, Caleb III, Jalen & Jace, Dustin & Bryce & Everything Nice) in the Midwest Regional ... a team, led by a 3-headed Caleb, which was unable to tap into the inspiration provided by the recent successes of the Jaywalk football and basketball programs.
DO THREE CALEBS TRUMP A CENTER-FIELDER NAMED HAYDEN SCALLION AND A SHORTSTOP NAMED ASPEN?
For those of us who know more about what Hayden Cronenbold did for the Thousand Oaks LL team which was supposed to win it all in '04 than we do about what Hayden Panitierre did last season on "Heroes," the answer is "no."
We're pretty sure that "Hayden Scallion" is a made-up name, anyway.
It HAS to be.
And, a boy/girl named "Aspen"? That takes us back to the Monty Python sketch from almost 40 years ago ... "number 32 ... the larch ..."
NOW THAT WE LOOK AT THE CALENDAR, WASN'T IT EXACTLY 20 YEARS AGO WHEN SOME OF US WERE HELPING OUT COACH CHANDLER AND HIS SUNSET LUMBER TEAM WHICH WON TWO GAMES?
Those were the days when Bob Costas' hair color was brown -- and not the color indicated on the side of the Miss Clairol box (rich chestnut ... midnight elegance ... 2,500-mile motor oil ... ). When you're the assistant coach for a L.L. team which wins two games, you don't have to deal with parents and you can sit off to the side during games, wearing a catcher's mitt and always readying yourself to warm up the next little hurler.
Or when you're tossin' BP and Tommy gripes that you're not throwing hard enough, you remind him that he's in LITT-ull Leeg ... and maybe I'm saving my arm for somebody who wants to hit higher than .265 for a 2-18 team.
WHAT'S GRATIFYING ABOUT THAT?
Well, when you see one of those kids in action 6 yrs. later when he's playing for one of the better Catholic school programs in the area and his coach tells ya that he hit a respectable .280 or .290 ... and then when that kid comes up to ya after the game and breaks with tradition of answering the once-every-few-years question of "Howzit-goin'-Ryan?" with "OK-howya-doin'?" and, instead, thanks you in a genuine and respectful manner for that bit of advice from that 2-18 season ("Line drive, every time up ... no upper-cut, home-run B.S. ... the ball's gonna jump off yer bat once you start thinkin' 'bout line drives ..."), ya really can't help but allow a tiny teardrop to form -- until the moment quickly disappears and you're lightin' up a Pall Mall and tellin' kids that the best way to quit smoking is to never start ...
DO KIDS SEEM TO EMBRACE THAT MESSAGE?
They do -- that is until they start askin' ya complex, unanswerable questions re: the ban of smokeless tobacco in dugouts on the high school, college and minor-league level while MLB'ers are STILL allowed to step into the batter's box with a dip in their lip that's the size of a Whoppper Junior.
THAT SEEMS HYPOCRITICAL. WHAT CAN THE KIDS DO?
There's only one thing they can do -- and that's to vow that when they're in their 40s and coaching first base for an MLB team, they will NOT wear a batting helmet while occupying the coaching box. When called before the Commissioner of the MLB, helmet-less rebels can deliver battlecry rhetoric ... such as an opinion re: The MLB's overreaction to the death last summer of Mike Coolbaugh, the coach who died when struck by a foul ball.
All of our favorite players from the '70s and '80s are occupying coaching boxes with their stylish helmets -- helmets which don't have earflaps, thank god, because a line drive to the ear is completely safe, as opposed to those line drives to the side of the skull above the ear.
SO, IN THE END, IT'S ABOUT KEEPING OUR KIDS SAFE?
Right on, sister. Because even though there are no helmet rules in place in high school and in college, Orel Hershiser can do the MLB/LLWS conversion for ya regarding how quickly a player would sustain bleeding on the brain from a foul ball off an aluminum bat as opposed to Mike Coolbaugh's death from a foul ball off a wood bat.
It's about making the game safe for our step-children.
And for all the Aspens and Klaus Mullers and Hayden Scallions who we don't know ...