Saturday, August 12, 2006

No U.S. Teams Return to LLWS

The last American team vying to earm a berth in the Little League World Series -- the Owensboro Southern Little League of Kentucky -- bowed out of the action on Friday.

The Lemont, Illinolis, all stars beat Owensboro, 8-1, to earn a chance for the Great Lakes region's championship. The winner of the region gets one of the eight spots in the U.S. bracket of the 16-team LLWS.

Lemont's Josh Ferry pitched a four-hitter for the win against Owensboro, seeking its third straight trip to Williamsport under coach Rick Hale.

Ferry struck out 13 and walked two. He also contributed with his bat, with one hit and two runs.

Owensboro was in the game until the sixth inning. Trailing 2-1, Owensboro brought in fireballer Dalton West -- one of last year's heroes for Owensboro -- to keep the game close for a possible Owensboro rally in the bottom of the sixth inning. But West issued six walks that helped Lemont to a six-run inning.

Ironically or not, Owensboro also experienced a classic meltdown in last year's Great lakes regional tournament. With an 11-4 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning against Kankakee, Illinois, Owensboro yielded six runs but held on for an 11-10 victory. Owensboro was winless in its 2004 and 2005 play in Williamsport, going a combined 0-6.

Even though no American teams will return to the LLWS this year, at least three international teams will do encores, including the teams from Willemstad, Curacao (Caribbean region); Dhahrin, Saudi Arabia (Trans-National region); Mosciow, Russia (Europe, Middle East, and Africa region). One other team in last year's tournament, from Surray, British Columbia, is still in the fight for the last region of Canada.

WWCD?

Before the beginning of the Cal Ripken World Series last year in Aberdeen, Maryland, Cal Ripken Jr. gathered the coaches of the teams for a chat.

Congratulations, he told them. Have fun. Good luck.

Oh, and one other thing: Don't try to win the game with tricks and technicalities. If there's an ambiguous situation, create some slack. Remember that the game exists for the kids. Don't teach them to play every angle.

This comes to me from Lance Arakawa, the coach of the Hawaii team that won the 2005 Cal Ripken World Series at the same time another Hawaii team was winning the Little League World Series.

I bring it up because of the events yesterday in Bristol, Connecticut.

In the semifinal game of the New England regional tournament, the all stars from Colchester, Vermont, were leading the all stars from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 9-7, going into the sixth inning. A two-run home run from Nate Frieberg gave the Vermonters the edge.

Then Vermont's manager, Denis Place, realized something was seriously wrong. One of his players had not played the requisite one inning in the field and one turn at bat. He gathered his pitcher and infielders on the mound for a conference. Whereupon, the Vermonters started to throw wild pitches, with the purpose of giving New Hampshire a couple runs to tie the game -- and give Vermont one last chance to get their last kid in the game.

See, if you don't play all your kids, you lose by a 6-0 forfeit.

Before long, the New Hampshire team figured it out. Rather than advancing around the bases on wild pitches and bad throws to second base, they stubbornly played just as badly.

So the Vermonters who led the game were trying to give up runs, while the trailing New Hampshireites were trying to avoid scoring runs.

The Vermonters were trying to avoid having to forfeit because of a technicality -- which they wanted to fix before the six innings were over -- and the New Hampshireites were trying to win on that same technicality.

Ultimately, the game finished with Vermont on the winning side of a 9-8 score.

But Little League officials in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, two hours after the game, ruled that Hew Hampshire would be declared the 6-0 winners. And so New Hampshire will play in the regional championship game against the all stars from Peabody, Massachusetts, on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts get their shot at TV glory.

What would Cal do? Hard to say for sure.

But under the spirit of the rules -- and the spirit of Cal Ripken's pep talk before his World Series last summer -- the Vermonters would have had some opportunity to correct their mistake. Sure, they messed up. They waited for too long to get their last kid in the game.

But why not give them a chance to correct the mistake? Because they were winning -- silly boys! why did they have to rally for that two-run lead? -- they weren't going to get a chance to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. Wouldn't the spirit of youth competition call for the managers to get together and work something out? Why did both sides feel the need to game the system?

Did those Colchester kids deserve to lose on a stupid technicality? Did the Portsmouth kids deserve to be caught in a war of wills over that technicality?

Yes, the Vermont manager knew the rules ahead of time. But he wanted to correct his mistake within the regulation six innings. Wasn't there a way for the teams to rise above the intensity of the competition to maker it to the ESPN-televised championship game?

Imagine the two managers huddled to deal with the issue. What a great lesson it would have been for both sides to deal with the problem without resorting to on-field shenanigans and post-game legalities.

How should this have been resolved? Tell me in an email (euchner@gmail.com) or in a comment to this blog entry.


Rick Reilly, the incomparable columnist for Sports Illustrated, explores the tensions between sport for fun and sport for winning in this week's column. Check it out.

Friday, August 11, 2006

August Madness

A LITTLE LEAGUE REGIONAL TOURNAMENT VIEWER'S GUIDE

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 euchner@gmail.com.)

"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?

SCHEDULE

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.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Russia One of Three LLWS Repeaters So Far

Yet another team from the 2005 Little League World Series—the Brateevo Little League of Moscow—will return to the Little League World Series in Williamsport later this month.

Brateevo beat Baden-Wuerttemberg Little League, from Mannheim, Germany, 4-0, to win the hodge-podge EMEA championship game. EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

Russia finished EMEA tournament with a perfect 8-0 record. Germany finished 6-1.

The Russians went 0-3 in the LLWS last summer but showed strong skills in pitching, fielding, and base running. Hitting—especially against the curveball—was the team’s greatest weakness.

The manager of the Russian all stars, a former hockey player named Alexey Erofeev, was aloe among Little League coaches in the 2005 LLWS in banning his players from throwing curveballs. At the end of the tournament, he said his top priority in preparing for 2006 would be to teach his kids to hit curves.

Erofeev was one of the most fascinating people I met in Williamsport last year. Even though Russia doesn’t have much of a baseball tradition, he insists that kids can learn the game quickly and well. He isolates different skills and works on them.

Unlike the hyperspecialized Americans—who tell promising athletes that they have to pick a sport to concentrate on before they’re teenagers—Erofeev says kids will learn baseball better if they play a wide range of sports. He clinches his case by asking whether it’s harder to his a baseball, standing still with complete concentration on the pitcher, or to hit a hockey puck while moving on skates with a goon from the other side barreling toward you.

I personally would rather be standing there with the bat, timing the pitcher.

Brateevo joins two other returning teams in the international bracket. The others are Curacao (Caribbean), Saudi Arabia (Trans-National). A final team from 2004, Whalley Little League of British Columbia, went 5-0 in pool play in the Canadian national tournament. Canada’s tournament final takes place on Saturday, August 12.

Russian teams have made it to Williamsport for five of the last six years. A Polish team played in the tournament in 2004.

One Americ an team -- Owensboro Southern Little League of Kentucky -- still has a chance to play in the LLWS this year. Owensboro, which played in the last two tournaments (going 0-6), is still alive in the Great Lakes regional tournament.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Comparing the MLB & LL World Series

In the last year, I have published books on the Little League World Series and the Major League World Series.

I wrote about the big leaguers because I wanted to capture the game between the lines. So much of sports writing these days concerns scandal, salaries, and outrages. It's important to know some of the tabloid news -- for example, Barry Bonds's steroid habit -- but most of it has nothing to do with the game.

Do we really care that Johnny Damon got a haircut when he joined the New York Yankees? Does it really matter that Kenny Rogers is a jerk? Do I really care that Lastings Milledge had sex with another teenager when he was a teenager?

In The Last Nine Innings, I tried to bring baseball back to the game. I used an inning-by-inning narrative of the seventh game of the 2001 World Series -- when the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees on Luis Gonzalez's bloop hit against Mariano Rivera -- to explore the way the players approach the game on the field.

Doing research for that book gave me renewed appreciation for the game. These players might not separate the warring tribes of the Middle East or find a cure for cancer, but most of them are very smart in their own world of baseball. They understand their bodies and psyches, they understand complex strategy, they understand the connection between baseball and American life.

In The Last Nine Innings, I explored a different facet of baseball for each inning of the game. In Inning 1, I looked at the calculated gambles of hardnosed players like Paul O'Neill. Inning 2 explores fielding through the glove work of Steve Finley and others. Inning 3 looks at the competing schools of hitting. Inning 4 breaks down the science and philosophy of pitching through Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Inning 5 looks at trench warfare, Inning 6 the growing sophistication of statistics, Inning 7 examines the virtues of veterans, Inning 8 globalization, and Inning 9 the way funny breaks affect games.

I tried to make The Last Nine Innings as pure a baseball book as possible.

Then I asked myself: What could be more pure than Little League?

So I set out to understand the strange phenomenon that is the Little League World Series.

After following teams across the world as they played in qualifying tournaments for the late-August Series, I got an apartment in Williamsport and lived inside the bubble of the event for two-plus weeks.

I have mixed feelings about the whole experience.

On the one hand, for the lucky few teams that advance that far, the LLWS can be a great experience. What kid would not want to play baseball in professional-caliber stadiums in front of adoring crowds? What kid wouldn’t want to be on TV? What kid wouldn't want to extend the summer and miss the first two or three weeks of school?

Most important, what kid would not want to be part of such an intense bonding experience? Nothing else compares with the LLWS for bringing kids and their families together over several months. Summer stock? Camp? Concerts? That's all great, but there's something amazing about the unscripted drama of sports -- and surviving the long run that foils 99.9 percent of all teams.

On the other hand, the pressure of the event sometimes took it away from the kids. Parents screamed at umpires, maneuvered for more playing time, squabbled in hotel rooms, complained to the coach via cellphone. Cliché but true, too often the Little League World Series is more about the parents than the kids.

In that respect, the major leagues' World Series sometimes seems more pure than the Little League World Series. As messed up as some major leaguers can be, they are at least in charge of their destiny. They play for money, yes. But they also connect with their game more completely.

Here’s the kicker:

At the end of Little League, Big Dreams, I make a radical proposal -- that we give the game of baseball back to the kids.

Adults have important roles to play organizing and teaching. So let 'em book the fields, organize the rosters, ferry the kids hither and thither. And let 'em teach the basic skills -- how to throw the ball, how to get the butt down and stay in front of a grounder, how to step into a pitch at the plate. The older the kids get, the more you can teach them.

But once the game starts, have the coaches and parents get off the field -- completely. Let the kids write the lineup card, make substitutions, make pitching changes, the works.

You say that's impossible? It isn't. Some of the best children's programs create a great context for learning and play, and then back off. The best way for kids to learn, the literature on "effective schools" tells us, is for kids to teach and get along with other kids. One Little League coach told me that he already gives extra responsibilities to his older players -- and that those responsibilities could be expanded under the right circumstances.

Ultimately, the responsibility of the adult is to prepare kids to do things on their own. Nothing is quite as tragic as a kid who cannot do the basic things because his parents and teachers wouldn't let go.

I know this idea is a long shot. Little League officials pretty much like things the way they are.

But for some organization out there -- Little League? PONY? Cal Ripken Baseball? Dixie? other community leagues? club teams? -- the road to success might be found by just letting go and letting the kids have their game back.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Curacao, Language, and Baseball

For the fourth straight year, the Pabao Little League of Willemstad, Cueracao, will play in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Curacao won the championship in 2004 and took a 6-3 lead into the final inning of the championship game before Hawaii rallied to tie the game and win it in extra innings.

My book Little League, Big Dreams details how the baseball establishment in Curacao—an island belonging to the Netherlands—has worked to develop a Caribbean dynasty in baseball. But Curacao also provides a fascinating view into how language, culture, and sports interact.

Vernon Isabella, the manager of the Willemstad teams that went to the Little League World Series in 2004 and 2005, says he was able to steal signals from the other teams and tell his players openly what pitch to expect at the plate.

“I can just tell my players what’s coming rather than having to give signals,” he says with a smile. “I can tell them in Papiamentu because no one else understands it. Against a team like Venezuela, I’m afraid they’ll understand Papiamentu. They can pick it up from their understanding of Spanish. So I use Dutch instead. Against most teams, though, I use Papiamentu. Against the Asians, I can use whatever I want.”

Language offers a telling glimpse into the smarts of other teams. Even though the team from outside Tokyo had no knowledge of Papiamentu, Isabella said the coaches and players were attentive enough to pick up certain key phrases. American teams were oblivious to those same phrases. “The team from Japan is intelligent,” he says. “They hear the sounds and the remember and recognize what pitch is coming. You have to be careful what you say around them.”

The only college in the United States to teach Papiamentu is Earlham College, in Richmond, Indiana. That class originated when Kathy Taylor, a professor of Spanish and linguistics, collaborated on a linguistic textbook six years ago. She became curious about the Creole language that brought together so many traditions.

“Creole languages in general develop out of a Pidgin, which come from the contact between two languages and two cultures—those of the colonizers and those of the indigenous people. At first, Creole is a simplified language that develops its own language. Creole is the first generation of the language that speaks on its own terms. Creole has flexibility about it. It tends to absorb other languages and adapt really quickly to the culture they’re part of.

What makes Papiamentu so fascinating is it has so many languages in it. And it’s charming. It makes you chuckle to see how they bring in different words. A good example is baidewei, which means ‘by the way.’ Then there is a practice called reduplication, which means repeating words, usually for emphasis. Slow is pocopoco.”

Since she first started learning Papiamentu from an outdated book she found on the Internet, Taylor has brought two classes to Willemstad for month-long classes. The students stay at the homes of locals and visit museums, schools, music halls, churches and synagogues.

Colleagues and friends ask her what value can be learned speaking Papiamentu, since so few people in the world speak it. She has two answers. First, simply getting inside the logic of an evolving language teaches important lessons about linguistics and culture. Since languages are living organisms, there is great value in seeing how a small language adapts and evolves in a turbulent age.

More important, she says, is that Curacao and Papiamentu teach the essential lessons of the global age.

“There is such diversity and toleration on Curacao, that you don’t even know what those words mean without seeing it there,” she says. “This island is a microcosm of what the world will have to be. In Curacao, you don’t have to act or think the way everybody else does. But you need to be comfortable with differences. Different languages and conditions can be familiar because they’re your neighbors, but you can still be who you are.”

“It’s such a small place and such a large world at the same time. There are areas that are integrated and areas that aren’t. I’ve met people and become friends with people on all different levels. Sometime you see amazing integration, wealthy people living near poor people and working-class people, but sometimes you don’t. It’s a matter of how you draw the line. Someone explained to me how people live in the community with the question ‘Yu di korsou?’—‘Are you a child of Curacao?’ Curacao is an identity, which accepts and brings together so many other identities.”

Taylor is not a baseball fan herself but has been impressed with the impact of the Little League championship on the local culture. When she goes to schools, the students want to know what team she roots for. “The Atlanta Braves, of course,” she says.

“There is this incredible mystique about baseball. You see billboards everywhere with big pictures of Andruw Jones, saying, ‘With hard work and determination, you too can be successful.’ All these boys, he’s they’re hero. When Curacao won the Little League World Series… it gives the island a kind of exposure it couldn’t get in any other way.”

Taylor frets about the island’s latest economic move toward tourism.

“This is not just a sleepy place with palm trees,” she says. “This is a culture of its own that has wonderful complexities. Everyone and his brother has a cellphone but it’s still very traditional. I love the fact that it’s a complex little world. It challenges students’ preconceptions and notion of what it is to be modern.

“I’m really torn about tourism. I’m contacted all the time by developers of some sort. It’s not my business, but I don’t want it for the island. I don’t want to turn the island into a bunch of Hiltons. On the other hand I get stuff from missionaries and they want to learn Papiamentu so they can do their work, and I don’t want to be part of that either. I want what’s best for the island and I don’t want it to be spoiled. But it’s not for me to say what people should do. It should be up to the people there.”

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Library

With the advent of the regional tournaments, which qualify teams for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, a look at some of the major books on Little League and youth sports . . .

(Got other books you'd like to add to the list? Email me at euchner@gmail.com and I'll update the list.)

Charles Euchner, Little League, Big Dreams: Last summer I traveled all over the country trying to understand how Little League works -- how it engages kids and their parents and coaches, what lessons it teaches, the looming threat posed by rival leagues and tournaments, and what might be done to restore the soul of youth baseball. This book is the result. Hope you enjoy it.

Lance and Robin Van Auken, Play Ball: A history of Little League from the current PR honcho at the Williamsport organization and his wife, a sociologist. The book explores Little League's problems as well as its triumphs, including the civil war between Little League's founder and the corporate honchoes that took over the league, scandals over violations of eligibility, race and gender bias. Great historic photos make the book a useful introduction.

Lewis Yablonsky, The Little League Game: A good overview of Little League, its operations and culture.

Destiny's Darlings: An affecting Boys of Summer-style portrait of the 1956 Little League World Series champions from Schenectdady, New York. The author, who grew up with the champions, visits them 20 years later to find out how the experience shaped their lives. As you can imagine, some did well, others struggled. The most poignant passages for me concern the player who got bitter when he did not make a Babe Ruth team the year after the championhsiop that he never played baseball again.

Bill Geist, Little League Confidential: A wry suburban father;'s account of coaching a Little League team.

Gary Alan Fine, With the Boys: In this brilliant portrait of the culture of Little League, Gary Fine explores the inner worlds of both the kids who play and the adults who guide them. Fine understands that the character of the peer culture determines the quality of the experience. Unfortunately, he finds, the coaches and parents turn a playful activity into a rule-bound activity where kids feel they have to perform to get the approval of adults. Too often, Fine says, the coach "doesn't respond to baseball plays but to the meanings of those plays for him." Even though the kids have ways of making the games their own, the adults' rules, routines, and lecturing can such the oxygen out of the experience.

Other youth sports

Joan Ryan, Pretty Girls in Little Boxes: If any young athletes are forced to perform at an early agem it's the girls in gynmastics. Ryan senstitively watches the girls get whipped into shape by

H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A classic account of a season in the life of the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas. Bissinger lived with the team all season and captured the intensity and poignance of a game that's too important for the town and the people who live there.

Wayne Coffey, Winning Sounds Like This: A poignant take about a season with the Gallaudet College women's basketball team. Coffey, a reporter for the New York Daily News, not only shows the drama of sports at the college level, but delves deeply into the world of the deaf. Without getting sentimental or treakley, Coffey explores the often heroic tales of the women who are doing everyuthing they can to succeed in a hearing world while also embracing their deafness.

The Fickle Finger of Fate

The other day I clicked on The Unpage for the latest news from state and regional tournaments, and found this item:

"Tournament action was limited to just one location worldwide today, but we nonetheless passed a milestone of sorts. When Baden-Wuerttemberg Little League from Mannheim, Germany, defeated Kirovograd-Center from the Ukraine by a 3-0 score this afternoon at the EMEA Region tournament in Poland, the total number of games remaining through the Little League World Series championship game fell below 200. By the end of the day, there were just 196 games remaining in the 2006 international tournament.

"Think about that for a moment: we started with over 7,000 teams and have seen in excess of 15,000 games played. (We brought you results from 1,640 games in California alone this year -- 705 in the North and 935 in the South.) After little more than a month of non-stop action, 99 percent of the games have been played, and 99 percent of the leagues that looked toward South Williamsport as the tournament began have been eliminated. And the drama has only begun."

To me, that's what is most amazing about the long march to Williamsport. I can't think of any tournament that poses longer odds of making it to the championship round of play.

What that means is that lots of great teams get left behind. In regions like the West, Soutwest, and Southeast, some of the best youth baseball teams anywhere get knocked off -- while in regions like the Midwest and Great Lakes, lesser teams advance. It's just a fact of life. The Sunbelt regions are packed with teams that play baseball throughout the year on travel teams, off-season Cal Ripken teams, and more.

It's not just that good teams knock olff other good teams in the Sunbelt regions.

There's also this thing called luck.

Everyone knows that baseball games often get decided when one team gets the lucky breaks and another team doesn't. For some teams, injuries or illnesses come at the wrong time. For another, the luck of the draw comes with matchups in the tournament brackets. And of course, stuff happens on the field -- tough umpire calls, tricky bounces, bleeders getting through the infield, and on and on.

Turns out there's a growing academic literature on luck. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in England has written a fascinating book on the topic called The Luck Factor. The book is more self help than academic analysis, detailing what steps people can take to enhance their chances for the bounce to go the right way.

When my local team from Hamden, Connecticut, lost in the championship game of the state tournament, the New Haven Register published one photo of a kid throwing down his glove in disgust and another photo of a pitcher crouched in dejection on the mound after an opposing player hit a home run. "It's very emotional to lose this," said Bill Rhone, Hamden's manager. "Especially [at] the end of their Little League career. It's a tough time."

True, true. But coach, you and your kids went pretty far. If you had advanced to the New England tournament in Briston, Conn., you would have had to thank your lucky stars for the many breaks you got along the way.

Now it's time not only to praise the talent and hard work that carried the Hamden all stars so far but also acknowledge the good luck that guided Handem and other teams all summer.