Szwaja's Sports Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sorry it's been so long. I have no excuse other than I've been lazy. It's been way too long. I've had so much I've wanted to put in here, but for one reason or another I've been terrible keeping this thing up. Expect a flurry of activity over the next week.

For the newest blog, I have a serious beef with ESPN. Let me start by saying that I love baseball as much as the next guy. I take pride in its status as our national pastime. I love the smell of sausage and sauerkraut at The Cell. I love sitting under the upper deck behind home plate at Wrigley. I love the 6-4-3 double play. I love watching Aaron Rowand run down balls in center field at Yankee Stadium -- balls nobody else would get to. Being a serious fan of head wear, I love the fact that baseball is the only major sport that requires players to wear caps.

Here's what I don't love: putting enormous amounts of pressure on 12 year olds who happen to be above average ballplayers for their age. ESPN broadcasting the Little League World Series, thus glorifying the deeds of kids, doesn't sit right with this baseball fan. This pitcher for the California team this year, I won't use his name because I don't support making him into a semi-celebrity, this kid's going to be the next Danny Almonte isn't he? If you don't remember Almonte, all you need to know is that he dominated for the New York team a few years ago as a pitcher. Problem was he was 14, two years older than the maximum age for LLWS players. Anyway, SportsCenter ran a special on Almonte the other day. He's now a senior in high school, and at one point the reporter said, "In an interview with Almonte's high school coach, I was told that Almonte would be a late round draft pick at best." That doesn't sound that bad here in print, but if you heard it, the tone in the reporter's voice made it sound like that was a bad thing. It was almost as if the reporter wanted to tell his audience that Almonte is now a prized prospect. All I could do was cringe.

Here's what we're missing: Danny Almonte is still going to be a MLB draft pick. I know there are like 248 rounds in the MLB Draft, but that's an impressive feat none the less. So, back to the pitcher on the California team this year. He's thrown something like 3 perfect games in this year's LLWS. Okay, great. Good for him. That's impressive. He's still 12, though. We can't make too big a deal out of it, because if we do, then we're setting the kid up to fail. We're throwing too much, too soon his way.

People, notably the people at ESPN, make these kids into semi-celebrities. They put them on highlight reels, make them part of top-10 plays lists and, perhaps most troubling, force us to invest serious interest in his development as a baseball player. Admit it, if you've followed the LLWS this year at all you've wondered if this kid will ever make it big. That's a problem.

There will always be the proponents, parents and friends who think it's great to see their kids on the ESPN2 Bottom Line or in the SportsCenter Top 10. That's all great. But I wonder what those same parents and friends will think six years from now when they see a SportCenter special on their former LLWS hero, which details his struggles to develop into a five-star big-league prospect. "He'll be lucky to be a late round draft pick." Let them play the games, televise them if you wish, just don't make these kids into national heroes. The way I see it, we're abusing a great tradition, our recrational gift to the world, our national pastime.


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