The Olympics are over. The golf majors are over. Football hasn’t really begun. There’s one more tennis major, but not until the end of the month. At least baseball is in season. It’s also in the middle of the postseason, depending on which baseball league we’re talking about. In recent years, a forgotten league has grown in such prominence as to challenge Major League Baseball for air time: Little League Baseball.
Williamsport, Pennsylvania has become home to an annual not-so-mini-series that fills the sports gap that happens every August. ESPN loves it because it is an actual sporting event rather just two angry guys arguing for the two-hundredth time about whether or not Tim Tebow will ever be a starting quarterback. The Little League World Series is not good programming, but at least it’s sports programming. And it bears a slight resemblance to baseball.
What it really is, if I’m watching it correctly, is a reality show. It’s a nationally broadcast showcase of kids participating in a contest to “stay on the island,” essentially. And to add to the drama, it’s important that the audience get to know these pre-teens, so they’re asked about who their favorite players are and the cameramen stalk the children to get both staged shots and, don’t know if this is worse or better, the un-staged moments of real emotion, tears – of both joy and sadness.
Speaking of sadness, one of the teams has a compelling story. And nothing makes for better TV than a good storyline. The New Castle, Indiana team representing the Great Lakes region, has a player who lost his father –who was also the team’s coach. The town has a 10 percent unemployment rate and is on hard times. How do you not root for that?
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The odds of one of these teams being from any one viewer’s hometown are astronomically large. But maybe we find a team to relate to by their story or by their region. Being from California, I guess I’m pulling for the team from Petaluma, in the northern part of the state. Look at that, even as I deride the whole spectacle as a way-too-long, poorly played sport-based reality show, I’ve got a team I’m rooting for.
To rephrase Theodore Roosevelt, it may not be much of a sporting event, but it’s the only one we’ve got.