A Petty For Your Thoughts
Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 ET
NASCAR great Kyle Petty is quite familiar with the Susquehanna River Valley in central Pennsylvania. Traveling up and down Route 15 to and from Watkins Glen, N.Y., a yearly stop on the NASCAR Circuit, takes him right past Little League International.
The eight-time winner and son of Richard Petty had never stopped to take in the Little League World Series.
Kyle Petty on Sunday was enshrined in the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence, which recognizes Little League graduates who have become outstanding citizens and role models as adults. The 50-year-old Randleman, N.C., native played in the Randleman Southern Little League. He is the first racecar driver to be inducted to the Hall of Excellence.
"The two things I took away from Little League were teamwork and sportsmanship," he said. "I thought the greatest thing that Little League taught was when you lose and you're in a bad mood, you still got to walk across that field and shake hands. You still got to say, 'Good game.' You realize that's what it's about. It's a game. You don't change the world with this game no more than I changed the world riding around in circles my whole life on the racetrack."
While racing cars ever since he can remember, Petty also grew up playing baseball, football, and basketball. He participated in baseball all the way through high school, playing mostly catcher. Petty lived three houses down the street from his Little League fields.
"It was not uncommon to go to Little League practice and a couple of kids would drive themselves," he said. "We lived in a rural community. It was a farming community, so everybody knew how to drive trucks and motorcycles and stuff like that."
Petty credits his mom Linda as his "Little League parent" because his dad would always be out of town on Saturdays at a race.
"I was probably nine- or 10-years old before I realized everybody's father didn't have a racecar," he said. "I thought that's what everybody's father did for a living."
Petty, who first raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1979 at the 1979 Talladega 500, admits he wasn't a very good baseball player. Baseball, to he and his friends, was just a summer-time activity.
"I could get hit," he said jokingly. "I was a terrible hitter. It was magic every time I touched the ball. I'm like, 'How did that happen? How did I actually put my bat on the ball?'"
"We looked at baseball as summer fun," he added. "Some of these kids [now] play baseball year round. It is a passion and it's a way of life for them, just like racing is a way of life for me. For us, it was truly the boys of summer."
Petty was introduced to the Howard J. Lamade Stadium crowd on Sunday prior to the World Series Championship Game. He watched the finale from the press box.
"I am blown away by the event," he said. "It's got to be one of the hardest championships in the world to win because you only get a couple shots at it. It's not like racing where you can come back for 30 years. To come here and play, it's got to be pretty amazing."
World Series umpire Ted Collins wasn't going to let anything stop him from participating in the championship game of the Little League Baseball World Series.
Not even his 30th wedding anniversary.
Collins was presented with a bouquet of flowers by his wife, Laura, in a pregame ceremony. The couple's two children were in attendance Sunday as well.
What now? It's a question that Little League World Series coaches, managers and players alike must ask themselves every final Sunday in August.
For many of the players, it's back to real life and onto a whole new type of pressure: school. With the bright spotlight no longer shining down on them, how do these young players cope?
"I don't know how they adjust to being regular kids again," said Southwest manager Mike Orlando. "But they'll figure it out."
They'll have to, and quick. The classmates of many of the Little League Baseball World Series participants have already returned to their studies, and the boys will have to hit the ground running when they get back.
But they aren't the only ones who have some work to make up once the summer series finally ends. Managers and coaches must ask themselves the same question: what's next?
"Work, Tuesday morning," said Orlando, a CPA for a company owned and operated by him and his wife.
"It's really pretty boring," he added. "Small office, sitting there on a computer all day… I'm gonna be bored next week, I'll tell you that. But it was worth it. We had a heck of a time."
Boys Just Want to Have Fun
Pearland manager Mike Orlando is one of the good guys, a manager who believes this game should still be played for the fun of it.
So when his team fell to eventual U.S. Champion Hawaii and advanced into Sunday's consolation game, he decided to let the kids take over a big part of managing a Little League team: keeping spirits high.
"They kinda did it themselves today," he said. "I was exhausted doing it for the last two months, so they pumped each other up. [After giving up nine in the first], they rebounded very well on their own, by themselves, without me, and I'm very proud of them for that."
Orlando went on to say that some Little League coaches and managers just take the game too seriously and put too much emphasis on winning.
"If you can't be a good mentor and you can't be a good leader and you take your frustrations out on the kids, then you should go coach the older kids," he said, "the ones who can pop you in the mouth when you do that."