Flying Under the Radar: Too Young For Prime Time Baseball?

Photo of Eric Scott, a blogger for the Pioneer Press from Lincolnshire.
Provided photo of Eric Scott, a Pioneer Press community blogger.

I am 100% against showing 99% of little league baseball on TV – just so we’re clear.

Back in the day, the Little League World Series had more of a “Super Bowl” championship feel to it; a big all-or-nothing game that was a showcase event on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Popularity really exploded in 1982 when a team of friends from Kirkland, WA emerged from dugout obscurity to win it all for the U.S. after years of watching international teams from the Far East take the title. In fact, the scene of the celebrating pitcher served as, “The thrill of victory” shot in the video open of future Wide World of Sports seasons. The stunning win and sudden fame that positively and negatively impacted the lives of those boys from Kirkland was brilliantly portrayed in the ESPN Films 30 For 30 Sports Documentary, “Little Big Men,” by director Al Szymanski.

That sort of gets me to my point… that now the present day run-up to the Little League World Series Championship is completely out of control. There are more little league playoff games featuring 11 – 13-year-olds on ESPN this month than actual Major League Baseball games. More highlights of little leaguers in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, more sound bites from pre-teens talking about “taking it one game at a time,” and more shots of parents on TV, who know they’re on TV, screaming for their players while holding up signs with their son’s nickname, number and… more screaming.

Here’s the downside; we’re eagerly putting kids in the national spotlight who really aren’t ready for it. Sure, it’s great when a middle-school shortstop makes the diving catch to snag a sure-hit line drive or when the center fielder extends his glove over the wall in a perfectly-timed leap to take away a home run – great highlight material and instant fame back at home and school!

But what happens when the 12-year-old right fielder drops the fly ball with bases loaded and lets the winning run cross the plate – on live, national television and for the entire world to see on streamed web feeds? Most major league pitchers take a long time to shake off the depression that comes with serving up the fastball that gets launched out of the park for a walk-off home run to end a pivotal game. It’s highly unlikely that the pre-teen who winds up in that same position would be mature enough to deal with the embarrassment and potential ridicule from friends and adults back home who aren’t mature enough to remember – he’s just a kid.

The race to sports media stardom shouldn’t start before athletes become teenagers. I’d hope the sports minds at ESPN also consider that sentiment and have provisions in place to not show replay after replay of an error that changes the course of a game.

Sure, keep the tradition going of showing the championship game, but how many playoff games and press conferences featuring 6th, 7th and 8th graders do we really need to see?

No kid deserves to be widely remembered as, “The agony of defeat.”

Eric Scott is a Pioneer Press community contributor and former TV newscast producer now working in corporate communications. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Lincolnshire Lightning Travel Soccer Club and on the Stevenson High School Foundation’s Communications Committee. Interested in writing or blogging for the Pioneer Press? Email richard@aggrego.com. Submissions also can be made here.

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