The Little League World Series presents a difficult paradox this year (at least for me). On the one hand you have the amazing story of the Taney Dragons and their star female pitcher Mo'ne Davis, but on the other hand the Little League World Series is covered by ESPN, who ALWAYS takes coverage of huge sports stories beyond the next level. Let me make myself clear, I have nothing against the Taney Dragons. The Taney Dragons are the first team from Philadelphia to make it to the Little League World Series. Not only that Mo'ne Davis is only the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series, and she's dominating so far, throwing fastballs up to 70 miles per hour and bringing the crowd to its feet.
Certainly this is a story that deserves a lot of coverage, however, as with the coverage of the Little League World Series in general, it's too much. I know on the one hand it must be really cool for kids who play in the Little League World Series to have so much coverage and support. I'm not arguing against competitive play in youth sports, I believe it's something that can teach kids the value of competition and playing your best. You have to wonder though, how much can a 12-13 year old kid take as far as pressure? Perhaps it's not so much the pressure on the kids as it's pressure on the parents of the children, who may be more aware of the media circus surrounding the event. To add to that, over 45,000 people attend the Little League World Series Championship Game, that's more than the capacity of some MLB stadiums (and certainly more than the amount of people going out to see the Phillies this year).
Parents should no doubt encourage their kids if they want to play youth sports on a high level, but sometimes, youth sports can bring the worst out of parents. I grew up playing youth baseball on a travel team from age 9-14, and while my parents weren't overbearing on me, I certainly remember there were some parents who were tough on their children. Not only that, you have tons of money being spent on your children to improve their game, spending long hours and days on something that's supposed to be fun. This enormous amount of time these kids spend takes away from something children live for, the Summer.
Of those kids I grew up with playing Little League, none have made it to the pros, most stopped playing before or after high school, some may have played in college. That's not to say a parent should automatically discourage their kids from playing because of the slim chances of making the pros. Certainly Mike Trout's parents didn't do that, and indeed as you grow older you can tell if you got the potential it takes to make the pros. The thing that usually separates this in youth baseball is after Little League when you switch from a Little League sized field to a Major League sized field. I remember growing up that the difference in field sizes was tremendous. One could argue that for Little League players this good, the field size is too small. Speaking of size, puberty plays a HUGE role in that as well. I remember the kids that hit puberty early were monsters on the Little League field, but then by the time high school came around everyone else caught up with them.
Consider these stats: For the five million children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play ball in high school. Of those 400,000, around 1,500 will be drafted by a professional baseball team. From those 1,500 or so, 500 will play two seasons or less in the minor leagues. Of the 500 in the minors, 100 will reach the Major League level, with one making it to Cooperstown, N.Y. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
So not only is it tremendously likely that none of the Taney players will make it to the pros, but consider this stat as well in regards to Mo'ne Davis, no female has ever played in Major League Baseball. Now I don't want that to come across as sexist at all, and I'm all for gender equality and female athletes and sports. I'm not one of these knuckleheads that will say "men are superior athletes to women". Bullshit, I've known and know some female athletes that could wipe the floor with a so called superior male in sports. Indeed, Mo'ne Davis is doing that right now. My point lies more with this; should the height of fame for an athlete or indeed anyone be in Little League? What happens when that fame goes away? What happens when they make the transition to the larger sized fields, go through puberty, and realize what they are no longer great as they once were?
I criticized ESPN before, but one aspect of their network I won't criticize is their 30 for 30 series, which is tremendous. In 2010, a documentary called Little Big Men, was released as apart of the 30 for 30 series. It tells the story of the 1982 Kirkland, Washington Little League baseball team that became a worldwide phenomenon. This was because in 1982, ESPN began expanding their cable television network through increased coverage of sports entertainment on a global scale. For the first time, the world and Little League players were exposed to the seemingly non stop coverage of their little tournament.
From the ESPN summary of the documentary: Adults in the stands and watching from home saw a much broader field of play. The memories of American hostages and a crippling oil crisis were still fresh; the economic malaise of the late 1970s still lingered; and the new President was recovering from an assassination attempt even while confronting new threats from the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, back on that tiny baseball field in Williamsport, Penn., where America's game was celebrated each summer, no American team had won a true international Little League World Series Championship in more than a decade. When the Kirkland players rushed from their dugout that day, they stepped onto a much bigger field than the one they saw. What they did, how they did it, and what happened to each of the players in the years that followed is a multi-faceted story. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Al Szymanski examines what became of a group of childhood teammates when the high point in their lives occurred before their lives had really begun.
The most important part of that summary and indeed the documentary, is the last sentence. Indeed, for those players who don't find as much glory as they did in the Little League World Series, the effect is profound, for some it ruins their lives psychologically. It's very ironic, and somewhat brave of ESPN to have produced a documentary that doesn't necessarily shine the best light on them, but it really makes you think, as it does right now with all the Taney and Mo'ne coverage, how much is too much?