August 26 - Far too often, baseball gets lost in the madness of today’s social media-driven society.
No, I’m not referring to the sport itself. That remains very prevalent - just look at the money that is paid by parents to train and showcase their kids and earned by owners, players and everyone in between at the Major League level.
What I’m referring to is the game.
In its purest form, baseball is the only game that mirrors life. Players learn to face and overcome failure, thus by nature gain more of an appreciation for success. They understand that luck often plays a role in the outcome, and that maybe, possibly, it can be swung in one direction or another by simply doing things the right way. Preparation and studying the game’s many intricacies can be just as valuable as talent alone. You can’t simply go dunk on someone if your jumper isn’t falling.
What a group of 11- and 12-year-old’s from South Riding gave us this summer was a reminder of why we love baseball. Loudoun South Little League’s American All-Stars weren’t a group of individuals plucked from each corner of Northern Virginia, given uniforms and told to act as if they’ve been playing together for years. They actually have been playing together for years while growing up in a pocket of Loudoun County.
We all watched them face and overcome adversity as they snapped Virginia’s quarter-century drought in Williamsport. In fact, millions of people watched them, as they played seven games on national television. In last week’s LLWS game against the Hawaiian state champions, 1.74 million people tuned into ESPN’s broadcast. In their previous game against the Minnesota champs, there were 15,447 in attendance.
After an upset loss to Dulles, they won six straight elimination games to win the District 16 Tournament. They’d sweep to a second straight state title, then made their national television debut at the Southeast Regionals by winning in walk-off fashion. They’d cap regionals by avenging LSLL’s loss in last summer’s championship game, then became just the sixth team in the 73 years of the Little League World Series to toss back-to-back no-hitters. They’d run the winning streak to 18 games before having their LLWS end with a loss to eventual champion Louisiana.
I walked with the team as it went to take batting practice before its game against Minnesota last week. Along the route, the players were routinely stopped and asked to sign autographs. Was I covering a team of pre-teens affectionately referred to locally as the Big Red Machine, or was I actually covering THE Big Red Machine of Bench, Rose, Morgan and Perez?
They bonded and flourished in the spotlight under the guidance of manager Alan Bowden and his assistants, Brian Triplett and Keith Yates, and didn’t back down from a fight. Which shouldn’t be a surprise considering their home diamond is named Lions Field. At first, it was the Loudoun South community that rallied behind the 13 players and three coaches. Then it was Northern Virginia. Finally, the entire Washington, D.C. metro area was hooked. When the Nationals’ players are tweeting you good luck messages, you’re a big deal.
Loudoun South’s run was the highlight of the region’s summer, bumping Capitol Hill from the lead on the evening news. It rallied the local baseball community and produced a lifetime of memories for its players, coaches and family members.
And it reminded us all of everything that’s right about the game.