Sports at Their Most Innocent

It’s an event that takes place every August, as the summer wanes and September starts to creep in. As kids prepare to go back to school, a special group of youngsters takes the field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania for an event that they will never forget: the Little League World Series.

Ever since 1947, the Little League World Series has showcased the talent of kids 11-13 years old from around the globe. Unlike the MLB, this is a true World Series with eight teams from eight American regions and eight teams from eight international regions. There’s an American bracket and an international bracket, and the two teams that emerge victorious meet each other for the right to be called World Champion. It’s a lot of fun for everyone involved, and there’s a lot of spirit from players, coaches, and parents. Local communities rally behind their youth, cheering them on from home and gathering together to watch their games. Kids make new friends with their fellow competitors, trade gear and memorabilia, play video games and ping-pong during their off time, and still find time to be acquaintances even on the field. It’s a friendly competition and most people know that, which makes it so much fun to watch. Of course, there’s still drama, with great defensive plays, heart-stopping finishes, and dramatic walk-offs. For every moment of jubilation, there’s one of sadness, as kids who are still maturing have to deal with the reality of a crushing loss. Plenty of tears are shed on the field, and it’s a learning moment for these young boys. Overall, it’s one of the most unique sporting events, taking everyday kids and putting them on a stage fit for professional sports. There isn’t anything in sports more innocent or pure than that.

I still remember where I was when I first discovered the Little League World Series. It was the summer of 2004 and I was at my grandparents’ house in Los Angeles, looking for something to watch on television, when I saw “Little League World Series” in the channel guide. 2004 just so happened to be the first year I played youth baseball, and I was intrigued to see fellow kids playing baseball on ESPN. The rest is history, and I’ve followed the Little League World Series almost every summer since then. There were the peak years of 2007-2009 when I was fully invested because the kids were my age and I could relate to them. I have plenty of memories watching it during my yearly trips to LA. There were the summer camp years from 2010-2012 where I missed some of the World Series because I was at summer camp, but nevertheless followed it once I got home. Even now when I’m in my 20s and the participants are now almost ten years younger than me, I still watch it every summer. It just never loses its charm. I can watch the MLB and get mad when my team isn’t playing well. But then I can watch these kids in peace and not get mad because they’re just kids. Some might even grow up and make the Major Leagues, like many Little Leagues have done in the past. The Little League World Series may signal the end of summer, but for these kids it’s the best summer sendoff they could possibly get.

The 2018 Little League World Series gets underway in just two days, and kids from all over the world have flocked to Pennsylvania to compete. From Staten Island to Honolulu, Seoul to Puerto Rico, Barcelona to Australia, there will be many national and international flavors over the span of 11 days. Friends will be made, dramatic moments will happen, and one team will go home as Little League Champions. Will it be Japan for sixth time in nine years? Or will someone else surprise and take the title? Tune in to ESPN, hear that sweet ping of aluminum, and find out.

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An Important Announcement About the Future of This Blog

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been the past few days, I was on a short vacation (which I’d blog about but my dad already did it a lot better than I could, check that out). Now I’m back, and I’ve been contemplating the future of this blog for a while. It started off as a fun challenge for me, to see if I could blog every day of the summer until school started. And sad to say, but I have failed. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but recently I’ve felt burnt out, trying to avoid actually writing things and instead posting links to things I’ve done in the past as a sort of cop out. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing, as I’ve written for my school paper for two and a half years. But even there I don’t write every day. At most it’s four or five days a week, and it’s all very similar. Preview a game/series, recap a game/series, interview players and coaches, transcribe quotes, rinse and repeat. On top of that, I didn’t know my summer plans when I started this blog. I ended up getting a two-days-a-week internship that quickly turned into a three-days-a-week internship, and that severely cut into my time. There were times when I got home after an eight-hour workday wanting to relax, but I felt like I HAD to blog. After all, I made a commitment, didn’t I? It took time away from things I wanted to do more, like catch up on TV shows. So long story short, this will no longer be a daily blog. This will be a thing I do maybe twice or three times a week on days where I don’t have work. I still want to put myself out there and show people that I’m a consistent writer, just not as consistent as before. I have plans for future blogs on sporting events when they happen, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. Also, I was originally planning on ending this blog once I got back to school, but I’m considering continuing with it if I have time. I’m going to be a senior, so I won’t exactly have a light workload. But if I have time I’ll try to do at least one a week. Thank you for keeping up with my blog until now, and I hope you’ll stick around for whatever I do next.

Blog Days of Summer, Day 60: An Audio Blog

In honor of the two-month anniversary of this blog, I’ve decided to do something special. See, until this point I’ve only written about sports. But now I’m going to talk about it.  Back in March I recorded a podcast with a friend for class, and I thought I’d share it here. It’s less than 20 minutes long and it’s us arguing about who the Giants should take in the NFL draft. I’m proud of it not just because I got an A on the assignment, but because I ended up taking the winning side of the debate. Check it out!

Blog Days of Summer, Day 59: Football Is Back…Kind Of

Ever since the World Cup ended, this has become a baseball-centric blog. That’s what happens when no other sport is on. But tonight, that changes. That’s right, football is back. The Ravens take on the Bears in the Hall of Fame Game, the annual game in Canton, Ohio that officially kicks off the NFL preseason. Is much expected from the game? Not really, since it is the preseason after all. We’ll see one quarter of the recognizable starters before probably tuning out once all the little-known substitutes take the field. But Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson should draw some attention when he’s under center. He won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville two years ago and was drafted as Joe Flacco’s heir apparent, so expectations are high in Baltimore. But yeah, football is back. At least, assuming there isn’t another paint fiasco.

Football coming back is exactly what the sport needs right now. It’s been an uncharacteristically quiet offseason, with not much in the form of big news. Usually we have players signing megacontracts, some major training camp injuries, a couple of suspensions, and maybe a weird story or two. Remember the summer of Deflategate? Anyway, the biggest story this offseason was all the controversy surrounding anthem protests, which I won’t get into here for obvious reasons. But for a sport that has the longest offseason of any of the major North American leagues, content sometimes runs thin. All the free agency signings and the draft were back in the spring, and we got a lot of content out of that, especially with the draft. Mock drafts were flying everywhere, analysts made “big boards” ranking all the players, and beat reporters tried to predict who their teams would take. After the draft there were all the breakdowns and draft grades as everyone analyzed how teams did picking their new talent. And then the summer hit, and ever since then it has been barren news-wise. Players reporting to training camp isn’t exactly a front page headline, so everyone’s just been biding their time until either a big news story breaks or football begins. And it looks like the latter happened first. Now college football on the other hand is a different story, especially with the Ohio State news that broke yesterday. NFL writers would have killed for that kind of scandal during the summer lull. At least the NFL Network kept people entertained by airing its annual Top 100 List that always generates controversy based on players that are ranked too low or two high. But it is interesting to see players praise the best in the league, and it does last two months. But other than that we’ve had to stretch for interesting stories. That’s why I’ve only done one NFL blog this entire summer. But not anymore. It doesn’t matter how bad preseason games are. We finally get to see players actually suit up and take the field against another team. Fans get to see stars play competitive football as they warm up for the regular season. Yes, football is finally back on our TV screens. And we’re ready to accept it.

Blog Days of Summer, Day 58: Another Yankees Blog

On paper, the New York Yankees are one of the best teams in baseball. They’re 68-38 and boast one of the most talented rosters in the league. But if one were to take a closer look at this team, they’d see cracks in the facade. For example, take their most recent game against the Orioles. They lost 7-5 to the worst team in the Majors, a team that shipped its best pitcher and batter to other teams. Sonny Gray gave up seven in three innings, reinforcing his status as worst pitcher on the staff. Even then, the Yankees could have come back. Their high-powered offense was facing Alex Cobb, a pitcher who entered the game at 2-14 with a 6.08 ERA. They scored one run off him. One run. They left ten runners on base, which included leaving the bases loaded twice. And this wasn’t an isolated incident, as they have had problems hitting with runners on base for a while now. Not only that, but they’ve garnered a reputation for playing down to their opponents often. It seems that while they bring their A-game against teams like the Red Sox and Astros, they struggle against the bottom-feeders. They’re 31-17 against teams below .500, and are 6-6 against the Orioles. That’s six games dropped by a team that’s currently 5.5 games behind the Red Sox for first place. Oh, and the Red Sox are 10-2 against the Orioles and 42-14 against teams below .500. That right there is the difference between winning the division and playing for the Wild Card. Beating good teams means nothing if you can’t beat bad ones.

So why do the Yankees struggle against bad teams? Could it be that they take these games less seriously? Do they think they can coast against weaker opponents? Probably not, because they’ve seen it not work and would probably stop with that approach. Maybe it’s on the manager. Aaron Boone’s already in a position he was unqualified to get, and he might not prepare his team the right way. He might not push them as hard as he does when they face tough teams. One could argue that he doesn’t push them hard at all, since we haven’t really seen him be critical of his team like Joe Girardi was, although that might have gotten Girardi fired. Third base coach Phil Nevin was caught yelling in the dugout, so at least someone is taking the initiative to light a fire under this team. The Yankees need to work hard for every single game, and these lackadaisical performances will not cut it come playoff time.

So now the Yankees head to Boston for a four-game series that will very likely decide their playoff path. Sweep or take three out of four and they’re right back in the division. Lost three out of four or get swept and they’re almost guaranteed to be in the Wild Card Game, with the Mariners and Athletics right on their heels. They’ve played the Red Sox well so far this year, and they’ll have to do it again if they want to have a shot at winning the AL East. There shouldn’t be a doubt that they’re motivated to beat their biggest rivals, but no one can know for sure after recent performances. At least Sonny Gray won’t be pitching, so there’s a bright spot for Yankee fans. This will definitely be an interesting series that everyone should watch.

Blog Days of Summer, Day 57: Old Social Media Shame

It seems like there’s been a recent epidemic of people getting into hot water based on old tweets. It’s been mostly contained to the sports world, particularly baseball, but it reached the public eye in a big way when Disney fired James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. I won’t link any of the tweets because they’re obviously offensive and vulgar, but all you need to know is that they were all at least five years old. Most were made when the players were teenagers. In Gunn’s case, he was in his 40s when he made the tweets. The point it, people have grown since then, and it’s not right to hold old things they said against them. We’ve all done or said stupid stuff as teenagers, and may have gotten in trouble for it back then. But not when we were in our 20s. It’s foolish to hold someone to the same standards years apart, especially if they’ve grown as a person. The players who made those tweets all came out and expressed regret for what they said, and got off with sensitivity training at the very worst. As for James Gunn, people are clamoring for Disney to rehire him, and the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy wrote a signed letter supporting him. If the people around him said he’s changed since he made the tweets, then there should be no reason why he shouldn’t have his job back. Yes he did say some abhorrent things, but he hasn’t shown any signs of acting on them or even perpetuating what he was saying since then. If we’re willing to let old tweets from athletes slide, then we should do the same for Gunn.

Above all else, these incidents prove just how much social media has changed the way we live. In the past we might have said something stupid as a teenager and nobody would have remembered it. But social media posts remain online for years, and anyone can dig them up. Someone who wants dirt on you can find some unsavory things you said and use them to turn people against you. That’s why it’s important to go back and delete old posts that might have anything questionable in them. Even if you think you didn’t say anything bad, you might have forgotten so it’s worth a look. Plus, you never know what certain people find offensive. It could cost you your job, your friendships, and maybe more. Yes it’s dumb to hold old things against you, but that won’t stop people from doing it anyway. Again, we’ve all done and said stupid stuff as teenagers, and in this Internet Age, it might be online for everyone to see. It certainly caused a stir for athletes, and it will probably lead to a mass deletion of old tweets by every famous person everywhere. There’s no excuse not to now that we’ve seen the consequences. Any pictures of you with alcohol or even drugs around? Gone. Any think with profanity or rude gestures? Gone. If celebrities can’t get away with it, than neither can you, an Average Joe. This has been a public service announcement.

Blog Days of Summer, Day 56: Tragedies in Sports

One of the pieces of writing that I’m most proud of is this article on my old blog. I wrote it the day Jose Fernandez passed away, and it feels kind of sad in hindsight. I didn’t know it then, heck, neither did anyone else, but Fernandez’s death wasn’t really a tragic accident but rather the culmination of a rash of bad decisions. Fernandez was drunk and on cocaine when he decided to take his boat out, and took the lives of two other men with him. Had he survived he would have undoubtedly been charged with their deaths and would have been vilified by a lot of people for his choices that fateful night. But since he died he’s been honored for what he’s done on the field. The Marlins pretty much retired his number and planned on building a statue for him, but scrapped it in favor of a plaque. He still has a lasting impact on the community in Miami, especially Cubans, because of his story of perseverance and how he came from Cuba to America and became one of the game’s top pitchers. There’s still a lot to like about what he did when he was alive, despite his questionable final hours. But sometimes I want to go back to those emotional moments when I first found out he died. I want to relive the power that came when Dee Gordon hit his first home run of season, crossing home plate with tears in his eyes as he and all of his teammates wore Fernandez’s #16 jersey. It was much more pure back then when nobody knew the real circumstances behind his death. As a Yankee fan, I likened it to when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979. It affected the entire baseball world, and no matter how someone dies, it’s a tragedy.

Fernandez wasn’t the only untimely death in baseball in recent years. Top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic during the 2014 World Series, after St. Louis was eliminated in the NLCS. He actually had a game-tying home run in Game 2, the only game the Cardinals won in that series. Fellow Dominican Yordano Ventura also died in a car accident in his home country in January 2017. Ventura actually pitched a World Series game in Taveras’ memory during the World Series. And last November we lost Roy Halladay in a plane crash. While Halladay was retired unlike the other players mentioned, the loss still hit hard, especially for fans who remembered how dominant he was on the mound. He’s one of only two pitchers to throw a no-hitter in a postseason game, was an eight-time All-Star, and won two Cy Young awards. The Blue Jays retired his number this year, and he’s almost definitely a Hall of Famer, perhaps a first-ballot one. And these are just baseball examples, there have been plenty more from other sports. Perhaps the most famous and tragic from this current century was Sean Taylor, an up-and-coming hard-hitting Redskins safety who was fatally shot in his home during a robbery back in 2007. Even entire teams have been effected, like the Russian hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, whose full roster perished in a plane crash in 2011. Or the Brazilian soccer team Chapeconese, who lost all but three of their players in a plane crash in 2016. Or the Humboldt Broncos, a Canadian minor league hockey team that lost multiple players in a bus crash this April. I feel like we think celebrities are immune to tragedy and famous people don’t die early. It seems rare to hear of someone famous dying in an accident. But when it happens it’s shocking, and it’s something we can’t believe is true. We don’t want it to be true. Athletes are celebrities too, and when they die it hits hard, not just for fans of their team, but for the entire sport. We lose someone who had years ahead of them, both as a player and as a person. They had families they left behind, wives and children, brothers and sisters who never get to see their loved one again. Athlete deaths are few and far between, but when they happen it affects us all.