Sunday, August 17, 2003

The boys of summer



By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Summer is coming to an end. The pennant races are heating up. The NFL preseason is in full swing. And the luckiest group of seventh-graders on the planet gets to miss the entire first week of school.

It's Little League World Series time.

This year, the Americans are trying to pull off a repeat for the first time since Long Beach won back-to-back titles in 1993 and '94. To give you an idea of how long it has been in baseball years, the star of that Long Beach team, Sean Burroughs, plays third base for the Padres.

So here's what American teams should be looking for if they want to win the title. There's a science to this, a cast of characters every team must have to win the World Series. Follow it, and you're home free. Ignore it at your own peril.

Here's the roster:

• The Ogre Kid: Wanna know how to spot an ogre kid? Check for facial hair. Every team needs one. He's the big kid with the ugly swing who hits the ball out like the 1977 version of George Foster. Sometimes he can pitch, too. Terrible mechanics, but the kid throws gas.

• The Natural: This is the kid who bats left, throws right and just looks like he was born to play the game. He can play every position and play it well. Phenomenal mechanics on the mound, with a swing you want to frame and hang on the wall of your office.

• The Coach's Son: Usually this has a positive connotation, but not in the Little League World Series. He's a head case. His father has him so screwed up, he can barely get the bat off his shoulder. He usually pitches in big games ahead of better pitchers and hits higher in the order than he should.

• The Mascot: This is the really little kid who plays second. He has to play second. He's the cute kid; that's pretty much his only responsibility. He's the kid who wears his hat a little crooked and gets the majority of the close-ups.

• The Catcher: This is the kid who does everything well but nothing exceptionally. It's like in every Little League they take the B-student, above-average-skills players and make them into catchers.

• The Dominating Pitcher: This is usually the big kid or the natural, but sometimes they throw in a lefty who can straight bring it. And that's always nice. But this is also the kid who will be out of the game by the time he's out of high school, because he's entirely too young to be throwing that kind of curveball.

• Prime Time: He's the more-flash-than-substance kid. He usually has about four pairs of batting gloves, wristbands on every appendage, a big wad of gum and perfectly drawn eye-black. He usually plays center field.

• The Chubby Kid: He usually gets stuck at one of the corners and hits after the stud power hitter, just like in the majors.

• The Kid With Glasses: Why? I have no idea, there just is.

A few of our favorite things...

Sure the baseball's great, but most of the good stuff has nothing to do with the game. It's what makes for fascinating television, which is obvious by the fact that ESPN has expanded its coverage to cover everything but the end-of-the-year pool parties. But every year seems like the same thing.

Here's what to look for:

• The announcers: There's only so much subject matter here, so the network has all the kids fill out a questionnaire about themselves. And it's supposed to last for an entire week, so they have to stretch it. On Monday, the second baseman has a girlfriend. But by Saturday, the kid's Colin Farrell.

• Crying: For some reason the cameramen insist on capturing this for everyone to see. What possible satisfaction could it bring?

• The kid who has had to bring his birth certificate to every game.

• Coaches forgetting about the microphone:

You're just gonna let him show you up like that? Next time, I wanna see a fastball right in that kid's ear!

Just great psycho coach rages. Reality television in its intended form.

• The European and Canadian teams just happy to be there.

• Brent Musburger: They bring him in only for the finals, like Eck coming in from the 'pen. It's magic. He is to the Little League World Series what Keith Jackson is to the Rose Bowl.

• Teammates blaming teammates:

First off, these kids are all-stars. They're not even friends with the other kids.

Secondly, they're children. Let the finger-pointing begin.

• Awkward interviews: There's nothing quite like watching Jack Edwards sticking a microphone in a 12-year-old's grill and then listening to 60 straight seconds of "like"s and "kind of"s.

• Too much hugging: Is this a new phenomenon? I don't remember this from Knothole ball.

---

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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ENQUIRER PAGE TWO
The boys of summer
Page Two Power Rankings

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