As school-age children across the USA start to reconcile themselves to the inevitability that the next academic year is beginning (for some) in a matter of days if they've not yet started back, I feel compelled to note, in the interests of good sportsmanship and fair play, the boys of summer (subject to the rules and interpretations of the respective national governing boards) are a weekend away from crowning the next Little League World Series Champion.
Here's this weekend's schedule, so grab some couch as two teams will grab some pine after the games today leaving only two to tango on the morrow. In a world where we pay grown men (and some women) wages that approximate the gross national product of some Third-World nations to participate professionally in a sport our children play for free, there is something about the joy and exhilaration of this annual competition in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that I find a tonic for the soul.
The enthusiasm and engagement of the television announcers, some of whom as youngsters, played on these same fields in pursuit of a championship, is contagious and inspiring. If you can listen to the Little League Pledge, almost as old as I am, or even just read it, and not get goosebumps, don't bother checking your pulse, call your coroner, as you're no longer among the living.
All you can be is reminded and refreshed about why you choose to follow baseball. Why, in an era of a dozen other sports all grabbing more headlines and worldwide attention, the simple beauty of a contest that, at its most basic, involves striking a small leather-bound and round spheroid with a stick, be it wood, metal or some kind of composite and doing it better than a like number of others attempting to do the same on the other team.
For a few days, eleven-year-olds have served as role models for grown men, for which I am grateful (and wonder where we can get battalions and boatloads more). An entire team, who've just been white-washed and whose run to the Series has ended prematurely and with a drubbing no one would wish on anyone else, stand one behind the other along the first and third baselines after the final out and shake the hands of the team sending them home and tell them 'good game' and really mean it, because the Little League World Series isn't just about baseball, it's about life, as it should be lived.
"... I will play fair.
And strive to win.
But win or lose,
I will always do my best."
Somehow, it's always better than good enough.