16 teams will play, 8 from the USA and 8 from the rest of the world. The internationals. Taiwan has won this series 17 times. They are the kings of the baseball castle. Why is that? And why have they not won since 1996? Samuel Chi, Editor of RealClearSports and ex-Taiwanese baseball player from the 70’s, thinks their 17 year funk might be largely due to political reasons. During the country’s little league heyday in the 70’s it was isolated diplomatically. (It was kicked out of the United Nations in 1971.) Winning was more than an ephemeral joy to be enjoyed for the instant. Winning meant everything. It validated Taiwan’s precarious existence, being independent from mainland China.
Japan, in this century has held the hot hand, winning it five times.
Pretend you are 12 or 13. You rock in baseball. Your bat smashes that fastball 225 feet to left, centre, or right field. You've homered. Now take your dinger trot around the bases.
But you are a golden oldie now. And while most of you who played here naturally gravitated to MLB, a couple of you became NFL quarterbacks and a couple of you played NHL. Pro baseball players extol their Little League experiences.
Lamade Stadium is the venue for the August 24th 2014 championship game. It’s got the night lights and two wings of stadium seats. Add the berm - “the hill” - that wraps the outfield and you've got seating for 45,000 fans. And all will have to fidget, wondering if Johnny will play today. The lineup cards are not known until an hour before game start.
The kids will have butterflies sure, but they’re used to pressure-packed situations. On average, each team will have won 25 times just to get to this World Series. And the umpires have been trying for ten years to get a chance to call World Series small-ball. You're an American umpire? You and 400 to 600 others compete for the allotted 12 spots Americans have.
And if your son doesn't have his media sound bites down pat, tends to speak candidly, or has a finger in an ear, don’t worry. During media interviews a parent, league - or team official, must be present to set, or put, things right.
And the kids will hopefully exhibit character, courage and loyalty. But to cover the bases, just in case they don’t, each uniform has the words printed on their uniforms.
Uniformly, MLB, as most of us are dizzily aware, loves the statistic. It lusts to know the consequential and longs to know the peripheral, the how many homers so-and-so swatted in the World Series, the number of times a pitcher balked in innings 5 to 7, on a team 30 games out by August 1st. This Little League World Series also is chock full of stats. Did you know, for example, that Jason Snow of Canada holds the record at nine, for most wild pitches? (He did his Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh impression in 1994.)
These days the pitchers throw not only fastballs - but curveballs. And the batters aren't cowering. They've been hardened through their team’s qualification process – they've seen enough “heaters’ to know how to whack ‘em. Watching them in batting practice, wow, they have home-run swings like ex MLB star John Olerud.
But you know what? These kids don't have time or temperament to rest on their laurels while at the series. Sure, the super-main thing is to have fun, but hitters, for example, are put through their paces thanks to Easton’s “Hit lab.” There, players swing in the cages but also stretch their minds as they watch different pitches on computers and learn to recognize their types, speeds, and where they’ll end up by the time they reach the plate. While they’re focusing on batting concentration, anticipation, and relaxation, all in the quest to flatten that baseball, they can later gander out at “the hill” and see their kid brothers and sisters sliding down on flattened cardboard. But the batters are holding something almost as fun. Most of the kids use Easton double composite bats. They have enlarged sweet spots but also feature reduced sting and vibration sensation(s).
One sensational aspect to grow the game globally is having teams represent their corner of the globe. For instance, the Czech Republic has qualified for the second year in a row. They’re the best to come out of the Europe-Africa region. Who knows, maybe baseball will compete with ice hockey and tennis as a Czech favorite sport one day.
Players go through, today, a pressure cooker to qualify. But once they are crowned regional champions, then the Little League stress subsequently soars. That organization has to pony up and pay about $250,000 - for all the teams to get to Williamsport - on basically one month’s notice. Airlines hold up to 14 seats for the kids, and more for team officials, without yet knowing their names. That is the clout of this championship.
If you want a glimpse of what’s in store in 2014, check out this 2013 highlights reel. And check this out. Ex-baseball greats, Roberto Alomar and Dave Winfield, are slated to appear this year.