I still have my Little League trophies. I have the All-Star trophies, the league championship plaques and, of course, the team picture plaques that everybody gets just for being on the team.
When I wipe the 25 years’ worth of dust from them, after digging them out from the deep box of memories buried somewhere different in my basement every time I look for them, I can recall nearly every inning of every big game. Every big hit that made me proud and every devastating strikeout that made me want to quit. Every throw I made to nail a runner at second and every passed ball I allowed that let a runner score from third. It’s all there. It’s all in the box and it’s all very personal.
I don’t share those memories with just anyone, you know. I don’t bother my adult friends with tales of Little League heroics, just as I wouldn’t want to listen to other grown men reliving their glory days for me. Heck, I’ve never even tried to identify the trophies for my wife. I suppose I’ll open the box for my son and my daughter when they start playing the game in a few years and I may even tell some of the stories that had such an impact on me. But I’ll probably hold back on my most embarrassing moments — as I said, it’s all very personal.
Unless, of course, you’re one of today’s Little Leaguers. It’s not personal for them, you see, thanks to nearly ’round-the-clock coverage of the successes and failures — the joy and the heartbreak of 12-year-old boys — on ESPN.
I suppose every young athlete dreams of making an ESPN highlight at some point or another, but those dreams usually involve growing up and becoming a real big-leaguer. You know, the kind of big-leaguer who gets paid to have people follow his every move, chronicling his every at-bat and hanging on his every word. Some of them may even relish the opportunity to skip the whole “developing into a professional” thing and just have their entire childhoods broadcast in high-definition for the entire world to see. But I’m quite certain that not everyone welcomes that bright of a spotlight.
Last week’s incident in which a Staten Island, N.Y., kid used an unfortunate choice of profane words in an emotional attempt to rally his teammates is a prime example.
“Just one f—— run!” the kid yelled to his buddies, reminding that the game was still theirs for the taking. But thanks to ESPN — which now believes that just televising the games is no longer good enough to bring its advertisers the ratings needed to justify their dollars and that microphones need to be planted in the dugouts to capture every teary-eyed sigh and every spur-of-the-moment obscenity — the kid yelled his encouragement to the entire television audience.
His parents — along with the team’s coach, who promptly slapped the kid in the head — were likely hiding their heads in shame.
This might be the Little League World Series, but someone needs to remind ESPN that the optimal word in the event’s title is “Little.” These are kids. Let them win like kids, lose like kids and act like kids — without the high-definition adult scrutiny. Let their memories be personal.