Hamilton Little League once again has a group of talented youngsters one win away from qualifying for the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Every August, 16 teams consisting of 11 to 13 year olds (mainly 12 year olds) compete in a global tournament called the Little World Series. This is the sanctuary of youth baseball. It is the mecca. It is for all the marbles. It is where dreams are realized or where dreams are burnt to the ground. I mean for crying out loud, this is Little League Baseball.
Many in the Cincinnati area are unaware how this whole process works. But basically, across the rest of the country and really all over the world, they have never heard of “Knothole” baseball. Which is the baseball program that the majority of Cincinnati uses for recreational level baseball. In Little League, at the end of the regular season, each League forms an All Star team. This team competes against other All Star Teams in their district. If they win they advance to the state tournament. If they win the state tournament, they advance to the regional tournament. And if they win their regional tournament, well they are off to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to play in the beautiful Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
It is a very neat process. And I mean what kid does not dream of playing on ESPN? Or having baseball analysts talk about them on “Baseball Tonight” and “SportsCenter?” This is truly a remarkable experience that has been providing sellout crowds to the little town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania since 1947. Games have been televised on the ABC Networks for 40 plus years already. Also, since they have started putting the games on ESPN, television ratings have been solid. People love watching kids put it all on the line for the game they love.
But I digress, I have beef with Little League baseball. Now I realize this program runs youth baseball across the world. It is the most popular brand, and the one that the most kids play. In Cincinnati, the two main options for kids to play ball are Knothole (the recreational form) or to participate in the Southwest Ohio League (AABC ball). AABC ball is widely regarded as the highest level of baseball in the country and rightfully so. The majority of these teams would destroy the so-called “Little League Champions” that get to play on ESPN. And I will tell you why.
Little League baseball utilizes what I like to call “baby” rules. When are these kids going to finally grow up? They play on a miniature diamond, that in all honesty, would probably fit a 5-year-old better. 60 foot bases with a pitcher’s mound that is 46 feet away? Give me a break. The Knothole and AABC kids in Cincy are playing 80 foot bases with a pitcher’s mound that is 54 feet away by this age. Did I mention that in Little League baseball, there are no lead offs? Kids must wait until the ball passes the batter to steal a base. What a joke right? Knothole and AABC ball has the kids running the bases with professional rules by the age of 12. Also, Little League uses a 225 foot fence. This fence was 200 feet as recently as the year 2006. You will never ever find a Knothole or AABC team playing ball on a diamond with a fence that is closer than 250 feet. In addition, Little League ball, similar to Knothole, has a rule that every kid must play (at least one at bat, or one inning in the field). Why is there a rule like this for the World Championship in Williamsport? These people are there to win. They are not there to make friends. AABC baseball would never install a requirement like that for their National Tournaments, much less their regular gameplay. Little Leaguers are being placed in a fantasy world. Only there is one major problem, the world is no fantasy. The world is not always a fair place. The Little League Organization always talks about how they are helping teach kids baseball and mold them into better people. They are helping groom better, and more disciplined individuals. Well why don’t you give them a reality check while you are at it? These kids are being blinded to real baseball and the real world. Recess and fantasy land ends at some point for every kid. Why postpone the inevitable?
Now, I do realize Little League Baseball has produced it’s fair share of Major Leaguers (partially because the most kids participate in this program). And you better believe these teams that go to Williamsport are good teams with good players. But at the age of 12 or 13 , pit any of the Little League World Series participants against one of the stronger AABC teams from around Southwest Ohio, and the Little League boys will get that reality check I have been talking about.
In the words of the kid named “Phillips” in classic movie “The Sandlot”, “We play on a real diamond porter.” Little Leaguers get a big time reality check once they graduate from the baby rules every year. Why not ween them onto the reality check like the programs do around here?
Give some training wheels for the kids. Really start teaching them baseball the right way from Day 1.
But best of luck to the Hamilton All Stars in their Regional Championship Game. I hope they realize their dream of playing in Williamsport.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.