Friday, August 11, 2006

August Madness


All eight U.S. regional championship games will be televised (see schedule below), as well as all of the games in the Little League World Series. That's a total of 40 games on TV featuring 11- to 13-year-olds.

Making 11- to 13-year-old ballplayers into media stars is still a strange concept to me. The Little Leaguers making the march to the Little League World Series in Williamsport are terrific players, all things considered. They pitch, hit, throw, and run very well. They know most game situations. They have been through a summer of testing. At the beginning of the summer, there were 7,000 American teams vying for eight slots in the LLWS; now we are winding down to the Sweet Sixteen.

Even though most of the players seem to forget the cameras once they cross onto the field, the impact of TV is enormous. It is, in fact, the driving force for almost everything almost everyone does. The logic is simple:

(1) In our instant celebrity culture, everyone would love a crack at being on TV.
(2) When recruiting players, Little League coaches snag a number of superior players -- in most age groups, the best players can be found in travel ball, not Little League or other community programs -- with the possibility of TV.
(3) In the summer of tournament play, coaches do "whatever it takes" to advance to the regional finals and the spotlight of TV. That's why the best pitchers throw with two days of rest -- half what fully developed professional athletes demand! It's always -- always -- about getting to the next level.
(4) That's why parents get even crazier than other athletes' parents. One LLWS coach told me that when he made game substitutions, his cellphone buzzed with angry parents: You showed up my kid on national television. Hoo boy.

There are so many games on TV that the broadcasters have to recycle their old material endlessly. Which reminds me of that old college drinking game of "Bob." Watching 'The Bob Newhart Show," players chug every time a character says "Hiya, Bob!" or "What out, Bob!" or "Are ya there, Bob?"

Here are some of the phrases you can expect to hear, over and over, during the course of the TV broadcasts. (Got more? Send 'em to me at

"You know, the dedication that these volunteer coaches show is just astounding."

"How about those kids from ..."

"Brought to you by ... Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, the broadcast sponsor of the Little League World Series."

"Did you see him execute? That's a big-league play!"

"His mom and dad have been nervous his whole at-bat."

"Isn't he just the cutest thing?"

"The winners of this tournament can expect a lot of prizes..."

"Because of the different field dimensions, some of these kids throw fastballs that are the equivalent of 90 miles an hour on a major league field."

"These kids become fast friends with players from other teams..."

"I've never seen kids execute fundamentals quite like this!"

"You know, I think there are some future major leaguers here."

"President Bush, who was the first president to play Little League, hosts a tee-ball game on the White House lawn."

"You know, the discipline of the Japanese..."

"So on the tiny island of Curacao, they speak a language called Papiamentu."

And on and on. The same phrases loop over and over.

What else do you expect when they're going to televise 40 Little League games?


Southeast (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Friday, August 11, 7 p.m. on ESPN -- Columbus Northern (Georgia) versus Greater Dunedin (Florida)

Southwest (Waco, Texas), Friday, August 11, 8 p.m. -- D'lverville (Mississippi) versus South Lake Charles (Louisiana).

West (San Bernardino, Calif.), Saturday, August 12, 6 p.m., ESPN2 -- Ahwatukee American (Arizona) OR Waipio (Hawaii) versus River Park (Northern California) OR Lone Mountain (Nevada)

Midwest (Indianapolis), Saturday, August 12, 7 p.m., ESPN -- Davis County (Iowa) versus Daniel Boone National (Missouri) OR Grand Island National (Nebraska)

New England (Bristol, Conn.), Sunday, August 13, 1 p.m. -- Glastonbury (Connecticut) OR Peabody (Massachusetts) versus Portsmouth (New Hampshire) OR Colchester (Vermont).

Great Lakes (Indianapolis), Sunday, August 13, 3 p.m. -- Owensboro Southern (Kentucky) OR Third Place Team versus New Castle (Indiana) OR Fourth Place Team

Northwest (San Bernardino, Calif.), Sunday, August 13, 7 p.m. -- Kent (Washington) OR Dimond-West (Alaska) versus Murrayhill (Oregon) OR Missoula Southside (Montana)

Mid Atlantic (Bristol, Conn.), Monday, August 14, 8 p.m. -- Final four TBD.


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