In the world of baseball, fans are constantly shocked by finding out a superstar has taken steroids or other PEDs. One by one, many people have seen their favorite stars cut down because of cheating: McGwire, Clemens, Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, Ramirez… Even more depressing is the fact that a player can no longer have a sudden burst of power or even a huge breakout season (also, a sudden drop of power, e.g. David Ortiz) without being accused as a steroid user. The worst part about it is, more and more often, the accusers are correct.
Do not lose hope entirely, though. If you are bogged down and depressed by the swirling steroid rumors and worried about your favorite player being the next revealed cheater, you can turn to ESPN (and its subdivisions: ESPN2, ESPN360) and ABC for the Little League World Series, starting August 21 this year. I have watched the LLWS in past years and really enjoyed it, and I do sometimes find it to be a good break (and, or distraction) from the seriousness of the big leagues.
Here’s a brief outline of how the LLWS actually works:
Each team (I think usually made up of All Stars from a local little league) must advance through different divisions before they can reach the actual World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. These divisions are typical of a worldwide tournament: in the US divison they go along the lines of town/city, county, state, region; in the international division they are understandably a little different. This year’s US divisions are:
POOL A: Mid-Atlantic, Northwest, Southeast, Midwest
POOL B: New England, West, Southwest, Great Lakes
The international divisions are:
POOL C: Carribean, Japan, EMA, Latin America
POOL D: Europe, Mexico, Canada, Asia-Pacific
The winner in each region goes on to the LLWS. In this final tournament they are split up into matchups based on their pool. Then the 1st and 2nd place teams from each pool advance to the semifinals. Then there is the championship between the two international winners and the two US winners. Finally, for the real championship, the US champion faces the international champion.
This can be sort of complicated…for more information on how it works and the schedule, visit here.
In the past 4 years, US teams have dominated, as a US team has won each of those years. However, in the 6 years before that, international teams won 5 times. Therefore, international and US play have been exactly even in the past 10 years, so it is hard to predict a winner. Even with this being true, some powerhouses have emerged. In the past 10 years, teams from Japan have made it to the championship game 6 times (including 3 years in a row from 2001-2003), and won 4 of those times; teams from Curacao have made it twice in that 10 year span and won once; teams from Hawaii have won twice in the past 4 years, and teams from Georgia also won in both ’06 and ’07.
To find the results of every LLWS, visit here and scroll down to “Little League World Series champions”.
But enough of all that boring stuff. Here’s a few of my reasons why games are fun to watch:
-They are quick and don’t take up much time, as they last only 6 innings
-Due to the small stadium size and the metal bats, there are a lot of homeruns
-However, even though that previous fact is true, a dominant pitcher can really excel, and there have been both perfect games and no hitters thrown in recent years
-All the kids are extremely talented, so it’s not just an error-fest
-There is a cool feature that ESPN used last year that shows the pitcher’s speed, and then below it, the MLB equivalent (I find this helpful when trying to figure out how fast these pitchers are really throwing for their age)
-The games can be really exciting, I think at least two of the last 4 championships have been ended on walkoff homeruns.
Those are just some of the reasons to try watching a game, and speaking of walkoff homeruns, here is Dalton Carikker’s to win the ’07 game (I’m still having trouble posting youtube videos, so this is just a link).
Still, though, it seems that no league can be safe from scandal, and in fact, there have been several in the LLWS, mostly regarding age. Many people will remember Danny Almonte, the young pitcher from the Bronx, whose fastball could reach up to 78 mph.
Almonte played for the Bronx in the 2001 LLWS and led them to the US finals, finishing in 3rd place overall. He threw a perfect game and a no hitter during the World Series, and struck out 62 of 72 batters he faced during the tournament. Remember that MLB equivalent stat for pitcher’s speeds? Danny Almonte’s average speed was equivalent to a 92 mph fastball in the bigs.
Almonte’s skills seemed unreal to many people, and sadly, they were. A few weeks after the tournament ended, Sports Illustrated reporters Ian Thomsen and Luis Fernando Llosa found records proving that Almonte was 14 years old, 2 years above the Little League age limit. Almonte’s father had brought him the the US from the Dominican Republic in 2000, and it seemed that the birth certificate presented to Little League officials had been false.
Although his parents insisted that he was the correct age, after a full investigation, it was revealed that he was, in fact, 14. All of his team’s records and wins in the LLWS had to be forfeited and erased from the record books. Little League president Stephen Keener said that Almonte and his teammates had been “used … in a most contemptible and despicable way” and that “millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived.”* Many people also thought that this incident brought the stereotype about obsessive sports parents to life.
Almonte maintains that he did not know he would be playing against kids younger than him, and although he had second thoughts during the tournament, he didn’t know how to tell his coach that he didn’t want to play anymore. It is a sad story and one that shows that even in what appears to be a safe haven from cheating, it has still occurred in the past. For more info on Almonte, watch this recent video produced by ESPN.
Even the occasional scandal in the LLWS is dwarfed by great stars that are produced by the league. Here are some of the league’s famous alums:
Jason Bay played for Trail, British Columbia in 1990. Here’s little Jason:
Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield both played for the Tampa, Florida team. Here’s Gary.
Jason Marquis played for Staten Island, New York in 1991.
Lastings Milledge played for Bradenton, Florida in 1997. That’s Lastings sliding into home.
Jason Varitek played for Almonte Springs, Arizona in 1984. Here are two pics of Tek.
Those are a few of now famous Little League baseball players, for more check out this list.
So this summer if you need a little break from PEDs and cheating, tune into the Little League World Series.
Thanks for reading.
Stats and info found through littleleague.org
*quote found through wikipedia.org