Last fall, the nation was buzzing about baseball. Every news and media outlet had coverage on an annual event that we in the athletic world call the Little League World Series. The attention catapulted kids into stardom over the span of one day. Mo’ne Davis was celebrated as the first girl to throw a shutout during the games and was even featured on shows such as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Baseball news was at its peak and everybody had their fan favorites.
One of the most popular of these was Jackie Robinson West, a team made up of kids from urban Chicago. The LLWS is a place where normal kids can become celebrities (see: Jason Varitek, Boog Powell). The players for Jackie Robinson West did just that. Winning over America with their sportsmanship and genuine love of the game, the boys were a fixture by the time they made it to the Championship. Entering the arena against a team in Las Vegas, all eyes were on them. Nevada was ahead by 3 runs, when a well-executed rally propelled Chicago forward to tie the game. Inning after inning, they continued to play good, precise baseball until they were ahead 7-5. The first baseman stretched in an attempt to complete a double play for the last out of the game. The crowd waited for the umpire’s call. Out. They had done it. They had won.
What comes next is a far cry from happily ever after. After a string of festivities commemorating the team’s achievement, including a meeting with President Obama and an Illinois parade, tragedy befell Jackie Robinson West. In a shocking turn of events, officials discovered that managers and coaches recruited ineligible players from outside of their region, included false information on team documents, and ultimately let down the people who trusted them most. This, almost automatically, stripped them of their title. Everything that each and every member of the team had worked for was put to waste.
What bothers me most about this story is the stark contrast between child and adult. The young men of Jackie Robinson West embodied everything that makes baseball America’s pastime. They were courteous, respectful, and most of all, had a passion for the game that carried them to the top. Teams who make it far in the World Series don’t get there because they like to play or they’re looking for a scholarship. They get there because that’s all they have: The love of the game. I hope that people remember that, regardless of the stance they take on the issue.
Certainly, there is a lot to be said about modern-day youth sports in this story. Parents, coaches, and officials of all types care little for what they have to do in order to see their kids succeed. This is a classic case of good intentions with bad results. In this case, however, the results destroyed an inspiring group of young boys and the city that supported to them. So, to the men responsible for making this decision to play without care for the rules, there’s no place for you in baseball.