For anyone who was old enough to experience it as it unfolded, there has never been - and nor will there ever be - another event in the world of sports that will generate as much nationalistic pride in this country as the 1980 Olympic hockey did.
If you're younger than, say, 35, you can't really imagine what it was like to watch a team of American college hockey players win the gold medal and defeat the Soviet machine along the way. Beyond the sport aspect, you also need to understand what happened in terms of the political climate of the times.
It was like "Hoosiers" and "Rocky" added together and then taken to a power of 10.
Now, if you want to ask TigerBlog what is second on the list of sports moments that have impacted American national pride, he can come up with a few for you. And either near or at the top of that list is the name "Cody Webster."
Taiwan first appeared at the Little League World Series in 1969, and the tiny island nation (now called Chinese Taipei for the purposes of international athletic events) proceeded to rip off 10 championships in the next 13 years. One of the years that Taiwan didn't win was 1975, when Little League banned foreign teams from participating.
Heading into the 1982 LLWS championship game, Taiwan had won 31 straight games in Williamsport. By then, it was a familiar ritual for the American sports viewer. The final, and only the final, would be televised on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," and every year it'd be a different random town from somewhere in the U.S. that would get pasted by Taiwan.
This was our game, our national pastime, and a bunch of kids from Taiwan routinely crushed us in the final? Every American began to say the same things: The kids from Taiwan were too old or they had to be drawing from more than one area or they were cheating in some other way. It couldn't be because Taiwan was simply better than we were at OUR game.
And then along came a chubby little kid from Kirkland, Wash., named Cody Webster, who wiped out the Taiwan lineup as the American team won 6-0. It was a win that became a tremendous source of national pride, and it made a Webster into an American hero.
Fast forward to now, and the Little League World Series is nothing like the quaint, charming sporting event it was back then. Back then there were four U.S. team and four foreign teams that advanced to Williamsport for a single-elimination tournament. Today, there are eight American teams and eight foreign teams in two round-robin pools, and every game in on ESPN or ESPN2. Even the regionals are televised.
The LLWS opens the door to all kinds of questions. Is it a good thing or bad thing for 12 year olds to be playing baseball on national television? Is it a good thing or bad thing for them to be doing it in games that routinely run past 10 pm.? What is the downside of realizing that for most, if not all, of these kids, there will never be another opportunity to play a sport with this kind of attention?
Then there's the TV coverage aspect, and it's one that carries over to all TV sports coverage. There's a fine line between being able to see as many games as possible (the whole tournament vs. just the final) and oversaturation of the product so that every game starts to look the same? It's a problem for college football and college basketball especially, where there are dozens of games on every night.
The 12-year-olds themselves are so over-hyped as "playing for the love of the game" that after awhile the phrase doesn't mean anything. The prize that is out there – a trip to Williamsport, a chance to play on ESPN and ABC, the chance to move further along in the tournament – is so great that it's hard to imagine 12-year-olds (and their parents, by the way) are equipped to deal properly with falling short.
On the other hand, the only thing worse might be winning it all. How do you go from that level of success, of national achievement, of endless autograph requests, and then have to start school a week later? Or play baseball again in games that are back to being a few parents in attendance?
Or put simply, is it good to have the best experience of your life come when you're 12 years old? Is it good to know that you're not going to match that two-month run to the Little League World Series that you had when you were 12?
Cody Webster went from being a national hero to being a pretty good high school player to having a short career at Eastern Washington University. To be the best at age 12 does not in anyway guarantee that you're going to be the best in high school, let alone college.
TigerBlog Jr. is a 12-year-old, one who never got into baseball. As an aside, TBJ spent some of his summer playing in lacrosse tournaments with and against hundreds and hundreds of kids who would have been playing Little League baseball had this been 10 years ago or so, but that's another story.
TB has told TBJ that if he wants to be the best lacrosse player he can be (and best saxophone/bassoon player he can be) that he's going to have to devote himself to it. He's going to have to put in a lot of time practicing (sports or music) to make himself the best he can be, to see how high a level he can reach in either (whether that is high school, college, whatever).
But TB has also told TBJ that he's too young to do that now. He's getting close to that time, but he's not there yet. For now, TigerBlog tells him, you play for fun, because you like to play the game and you like to play with your teammates. Too much intensity now, at the age, of 12, would probably mean no interest in playing later.
TigerBlog can't help but think of that when he watches the LLWS.
Princeton has 1,000 student-athletes, all of whom found a way to navigate through the difficult waters of youth sports to reach the college level. TigerBlog has always been fascinated by talking to the athletes about how they got their start in their sport.
For some, they played from the time they were five. For others, they didn't come to the sport they'd play in college until they were freshmen or sophomores in high school. TB remembers Jim Salters, an undersized but outstanding linebacker, whose mother wouldn't let him play tackle football until he talked her into it when he got to high school. Maybe if he'd played Pop Warner from the time he was six, he wouldn't have wanted to play anymore by high school.
Here at TigerBlog HQ, we see the ones who made it through to play in college. The ones here are athletes with the skill to play in college, something only a very, very, very small handful have. Most of the kids you see in the LLWS this week will not have that skill six years from now. In that case, maybe it's good that they have this experience now.
On the other hand, if it's too much now, maybe having the skill later won't matter. It's a difficult balance. And who's to say what's right?
Still, TigerBlog can't help but lean towards the line of thinking that 12-year-olds should be in bed at 10 pm, not playing baseball on ESPN.