Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Drives You Crazy?

TigerBlog saw the ball fly majestically off the bat, easily clearing the fence and touching off a wild celebration.

Montana had just defeated California 1-0 in seven innings in what was essentially the United States semifinal for the Little League World Series. The 1-0 pitch that TB saw leave the yard was the only one of the game that he saw, since he only saw it on the highlights.

TB hates the Little League World Series. Well, not the event itself. He hates what ESPN has done to it, with every game on one of the networks and with even the regionals now televised.

It's too much, too over the top, too formulaic (kids playing for the love of the game rather than spoiled professionals playing only for money). The obligatory shots of parents in the crowd long ago lost all meaning.

The way that 12-year-olds can be deified by Brent Musburger is just silly. The way some of the kids now stand at home plate and watch home runs before going into their trot is just ridiculous.

The pressure of 40,000 or so fans watching middle school kids is somewhat frightening, especially for what TB figures has to be the mental ramifications of those who perform at less than their best in the face of it.

And then TB watched the clip of the kid from Montana, and for a brief moment, he began to change his mind a bit.

The ball was crushed, for starters. The batter - Ben Askelson - ran around the bases with a big smile on his face, but he did nothing to show up the kids from California.

The camera briefly found a California player who was tearing up, but instead it then focused on the handshake line between the teams, during which several California players appeared to stop and congratulate Askelson. TB thought perhaps the players had gotten to know each other a bit during their time in Williamsport.

It was a wonderful moment, the boy who had just won the dramatic game and the kids who lost, handling it with great poise and sportsmanship.

And then, just like that, the moment was ruined, as Askelson was whisked away for an on-field ESPN interview, one that TB didn't listen to.

TB understands it, of course. ESPN is paying big money for the tournament, as nearly one-quarter of Little League Baseball's income comes from the TV rights. The network is going to maximize exposure and revenues, which means playing games late at night, televising more, etc.

It's just that there's something about it that rubs TB the wrong way.

On the other hand, Ben Askelson and the California kids did at least get TB to reconsider.

The Little League World Series used to mean one game, the final between the U.S. champ and the international champ, on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

These days, the tournament means the end of summer and the start of a new school year.

The first college football games of the season are one week away, with the Thursday before Labor Day schedule of 26 games and then a whole bunch of others for the rest of the weekend.

The first college athletic events actually happened last weekend, including a 7-0 win for Arizona State women's soccer over Northern Arizona in former Princeton assistant coach Scott Champ's first game with the Sun Devils.

Princeton has its first events in eight days, when the field hockey and both soccer teams play.

Another way to tell that the end of the summer is near is that yesterday was the annual athletic department retreat, one that opens discussion for nearly everything that goes into allowing Princeton to field teams and compete.

In an effort to stimulate discussion, Director of Athletics Gary Walters asked a cross-section of staff members, coaches and others from the University a series of questions, including this one:

"What drives you crazy about this place?"

There were all kinds of different answers, ranging from the humorous to the serious.

TB's response? Basically that in the current environment of the country, where so many people are struggling and out of work and with so much uncertainty, nothing really drives him crazy. Oh sure, there are things he'd change, but in general, he's appreciative of the opportunity he has here.

Now, if the question had been what drives you crazy in general, then TB might have said the Little League World Series.

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