Volume 7, No. 4 - November 2012
If You Only KNEW!
From the Inside Looking Out, Little League Baseball World Series Is Awesome
By Todd Herges, Coach, 2012 Midwest Region Champions, Kearney, NE
This article is not about me … it's about the Little League Baseball World Series! It might help you to know from where I come as the writer, especially since you may have come from a very similar place.
Like most men, I was raised to love and respect the national pastime. And, like most other coaches – at least those 35 or older – the summer days of my youth were spent playing with my brothers and friends on a local sandlot, and the summer nights were spent listening to my favorite Major League team on the radio.
In between the sandlot games and the radio games – during the months of May and June and part of July – we looked forward to putting on those old wool uniforms, nice new hats, colored stirrups and black cleats; and then stepping onto a nicely-chalked diamond to play a real game, with real umpires, real bases, and even real fans (usually just our parents and siblings but hey, the bleachers weren't empty).
I admit that I might have developed a deeper love than some … being that I had a Granddad who scouted for the St. Louis Cardinals, and some great uncles who were famously-written about for having played in a place that came to be known as Lake Wobegon, Minn. (western Stearns County). The fact that I have five younger brothers who were always ready to play a little pickle or pepper, if not a real game, probably helped too. Four of those brothers went on to play baseball in college and one ultimately made it up to "the Show." That brother enjoyed more than just a cup of coffee in the Majors too, racking up almost 500 "K's" as a middle reliever, and even pitching in the postseason a couple of times.
So I've been around the game some. I've lost count, but it must be dozens of Major League games, hundreds of minor league and collegiate contests, and surely over a thousand Little League games. Naturally, I heard a long time ago about Williamsport and the Little League World Series, and over the decades I've even watched a few games on ABC's Wide World of Sports, and more recently on ESPN. It always seemed to be fun for those lucky few who made it there.
I'm here to tell you though, that it's not. It's not "pretty fun" at all. Saying it's "a pretty fun time" is like saying the Indianapolis 500 is "a little bit loud" or the stretch run at the Kentucky Derby is "kind of exciting." It's like saying that the Vatican museum has "some nice art."
The Little League Baseball World Series simply defies description. And the most amazing thing is that it is absolutely attainable.
You heard right: it defies description, and it is absolutely attainable.
So, how does it defy description? I'll try to put it into an easy context.
You may have once been on a vacation to the mountains, or the ocean – or maybe you're fortunate enough to live nearby. Naturally you want to share the astounding beauty with your family and friends, so you take pictures. But, somehow your pictures flatten the mountains, and make the ocean appear less vast. The Little League complex in Williamsport is like that.
It may look nice on television but you have no idea, until you see it for yourself, just how beautiful it is … seventy-eight acres of baseball purity.
The diamonds are pristine, the crowds are attentive and supportive, and the aura of the place – made up of the volunteer umpires, ushers, officials, broadcasters, fans … well, I wish I could help you understand, but I just can't. Take it from me though, you want to go there some day, and when you do I can promise that you will be tempted to pinch yourself as you sit in Lamade Stadium and take in the sights, and sounds, and smells, and the spirit of the whole place. It will seem like a dream.
If the Little League complex in Williamsport isn't baseball heaven then it is beyond my capacity to conceive how incredible the real baseball heaven must be. Actually, I don't even want to try – Williamsport is fantastic enough for me.
So trust me, it defies description. But how is the Little League Baseball World Series absolutely attainable? That part is pretty fantastic too, but before I tell you about the attainability let me give you a little background.
The structure of this most glorious of all baseball tournaments was not built haphazardly. I've learned first-hand that it was built, and is maintained, with incredible care to assure it meets the pure and wholesome objectives of Little League International, most especially … to help develop good citizens.
Little League is a non-profit organization whose stated mission is to "promote, develop, supervise, and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League." Through proper guidance and exemplary leadership, Little League assists children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of CHARACTER, COURAGE and LOYALTY, the Little League program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes. (The athletes who make it to the World Series can clearly be called superior, though.)
Nearly everyone I've spoken with at the Little League organization mentions that their primary job is to serve the two million plus boys and girls around the world who participate each year. Almost the entirety of the staff's time is spent taking great care to sustain the mission by assuring that the local leagues follow the rules and are well-insured, that volunteers (umpires, coaches, etc.) are screened and trained, and that Little League contributes positively to, not just the fabric of our own country, but also to the broader brotherhood of mankind spread across the globe.
You see, Little League is not an exclusive organization. It is INCLUSIVE. As long as a boy or girl meets the age and residency rules, he or she can play. In fact, once signed up they must play and are therefore included in the lineup during every single game. Everyone who wants a shot at participating in this great game gets their shot. Everyone who signs up has the chance to build memories, grow as a person, and some day have something to tell their own kids about – speaking from their own experience.
It takes a whole lot of work and focus, and a humble spirit of service, to keep Little League humming the way it does year after year for the millions of people. It also takes an incredible effort to put on the championship tournament.
Around July 1 each year roughly 7,000 teams from around the world start down the path toward Williamsport. In six short weeks, that number is whittled to 16. And then those 16 teams are transported to baseball heaven, where they are outfitted with new uniforms and gear, housed and fed, interviewed and recorded, paraded and celebrated.
Oh, and they also get time to practice each day in a remarkably beautiful setting. After their long journeys and steadfast preparations, they finally get to take to the diamond and display their skills and pure love of baseball before thousands of appreciative fans. The fact that there are about 10 million more watching on television pales in the midst of the heavenly aura. I'll say it again: it is simply too fantastic, too beautiful, to be described with mere words, or pictures.
So how do you attain such a magnificent goal? Most people would say that it's not easy, and I can't really disagree. Taking one of 7,000 all-star teams and staying alive until the final 16, is clearly a heroic undertaking, with more than a little bit of luck mixed in along the way. But surprisingly, I've found that in some ways Williamsport is easy to attain. The answer is found in those words of wisdom you may have picked up from a father, or grandfather, or coach… those "cardinal rules of baseball" which also happen to resemble some of the cardinal rules of life:
- Set a goal, and know the steps needed to attain it. Then go start taking those steps, one at a time.
- Work hard so you can play hard.
- Give 110 percent effort 100 percent of the time.
- Respect the game, and all who are involved in it. (This includes, significantly, the umpires.)
- Have quiet confidence.
- Let your bat, and glove, and arm do your talking for you, never your mouth. (Don't tell people how good you are, show them.)
- One bad apple will spoil the barrel. (Pray that kids chosen for your league's tournament team aren't too full of themselves, and don't subscribe to the false notion that they can build themselves up by tearing others down.)
- Finally, and this is taken directly from the Little League Pledge, encourage your team to strive to win, but win or lose to always do their best. Knowing they've done their best really will put them in Williamsport – if not in person, then at least in spirit. A group of boys who give it their all, make the team, practice hard, and always do their best will enjoy the Little League World Series no matter if they experience it as a player or as a fan; in person or on television. They are kindred spirits to the lucky 200, or so, boys from around the world who get to play on that grand Pennsylvania stage.
But either way, as a team of players or fans, find a way to someday take them to Williamsport in person. You and they will be better for experiencing it first hand. I promise.
About the Author: Todd Herges was a coach on the team from Kearney, Nebraska that represented the Midwest region in the 2012 LLBWS. His son Mark was an 11-year old on the team. In 2011, another of Todd's sons – Jack – played on the team from Kearney that was eliminated from the tournament before making it to Williamsport. Todd claims that both boys fully experienced Williamsport (in spirit) last year due to the effort and attitude consistently displayed by Jack's team, and because of the ability to "meet" so many players from around the world through the medium of television. He also admits though, that their experience in 2012 exceeded it. "It's definitely best experienced in person."