Heaters, cheaters, and junior Jeters at the Little League World Series
The Little League World Series kicks off this week in South Williamsport, Pa., where one can witness sport in its purest form. Some 16 squads of 11- to 13-year-olds from across the globe compete for glory, motivated by their love of the game, and bolstered by the support of their families, teammates, and coaches. It’s a celebration of the camaraderie and spirit of friendly competition between these kids and nations.
OK, in reality, the LLWS is a multimillion-dollar enterprise, with ESPN paying roughly $60 million to lock up the television rights while Little League Inc. reports millions in revenue – though much of this is reinvested across the organization. Still, some call for the players to be paid for their appearances in Williamsport.
All valid issues, but the LLWS still is a fantastic event with memorable moments. There doesn’t appear to be another Mo’ne Davis in the making as the 2016 edition begins on Thursday, but here are just a few types of little leaguer seen in years past that could come back around throughout the tournament’s 11-day run:
- \nThe Little Guy With The Big Swing
These kids are 11 to 13, so naturally their shapes and sizes vary greatly. And sometimes a player whose growth spurt hasn’t quite kicked in will display some amazing power anyway. In 2014 it was Mexico’s Ruy Martinez – checking in at 4-foot-8 and 80 pounds – who thrilled teammates and fans (and himself) with a blast.
- The Kid Who Towers Over Everyone
On the other end of the spectrum was Puerto Rico’s Erick Figueroa, who at 6-feet-4, 229 pounds, dwarfed the tournament’s other players that same year.
- The Player Who You Just Can’t Believe Is Only 13 Years Old
What would you expect with the nickname of “The Japanese Babe Ruth” other than size, an 80-mph fastball, and monster power? The 6-foot, 206-pound Kotaro Kiyomiya boasted all three in mesmerizing fans – and the opposition – in 2012.
- The Player Who You Just Can’t Believe Is Only 12 Years Old – And In Some Cases, He’s Not
Danny Almonte and his team from the Bronx captivated LLWS fans in 2001. The youngster had been virtually unhittable all season, throwing upwards of 75 mph before tossing the tournament’s first perfect game in more than 40 years. Turns out he was too perfect. It later was discovered that Almonte was 14 years old, not 12. The Bronx team, which had finished third in the tournament, was stripped of all its wins and disqualified. The scandal led to changes in the tournament’s age verification process.
In another eligibility debacle, the feel-good story of an all-black squad from Chicago advancing to the 2014 title game turned sour when it was discovered Jackie Robinson West knowingly used players from outside regional boundaries and was stripped of its U.S. title.
- The Sudden Hero
The walk-off home run is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. But when it wins the entire tournament? Dalton Carriker and his squad from Warner Robins, Ga., experienced as much in 2007.
- The Kid Who Must Admire An Amazing Feat – Accomplished By The Other Team
Cole Wagner put on a show during the 2015 LLWS. Even the pitcher on the receiving end of this grand slam was impressed.
Pitcher Mekhi Garrard is wowed by Cole Wagner’s blast (ESPN)
- The Mom
Yes, it’s crass, but the telecast inevitably singles out the attractive mom of a star player and finds any and all excuses to show her on-camera repeatedly. One noted example was Mariana Bichette – wife of former big leaguer Dante Bichette, and mother of past LLWS star Dante Bichette Jr. (who now plays in the minor leagues). Mariana Bichette and two of her fellow player moms got more screen time during the 2005 LLWS than the “can you hear me now?” guy.
- The Goofball
Remember, these are just kids. And even they know it’s just a game.