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It burns on my home TV, all morning, all day. NFL exhibitions can't touch it. Neither can big-league ball, a World Golf Championships event or NASCAR. My wife wonders about my sanity, questioning the need for daylong viewing.
"But," I protest, "it's the Little League World Series!"She rolls her eyes, and heads to the exercise bike. I sink deeper into the couch, shouting at the kids to hit the cutoff man, be more selective at the plate and ignore the coach who thinks he's Walter Alston with a wireless mike. I wipe onion dip off my T-shirt. I am in sports heaven, in the heaven of an American late summer.
After all, it's the Little League World Series!Why the obsession? I know my people at The Cooler understand where I'm coming from. It's a longing for my own past, and redemption for those eight straight walks I gave up to lose the Mill Valley (Calif.) Little League City Championship in 1979. It's the fascination with the fallible, where a shortstop and third baseman from Maine can gather underneath a can o' corn pop-up, then let it drop. It's a love affair with the dimensions and magic of Little League, which might have started as we watched Buttermaker knock back cans of Budweiser on the big screen back in 1976. And it's for moments like Sunday night, when Kalen Pimentel of Vista, Calif. -- otherwise known as Triple Duty Pimentel, for his skills at pitching, hitting and shaving -- broke open a 3-3 game with Maine with a grand slam of Ruthian proportions. Kalen's studly swing of the bat was promptly followed by an interview with his mom, Mary Susan Pimentel, who rebuffed questions about her son's age by saying, "I'm used to it by now ... because of his size, and the facial hair." If only Rafael Palmeiro's mom had been subpoenaed by Congress to give such forthright answers. Perhaps a national scandal could have been averted. There is something so ... yes, innocent about a ball game not tainted by 'roids, pitch counts or the National League West. And yet, I feel a tinge of sadness as I watch. Clearly, a nation of kids spending their childhoods eating food injected with hormones and watching soft-porn videos on MTV has raced to the finish line of puberty much faster than past generations. In that context, the quaint dimensions of the Little League diamond seem as antiquated as a VCR. Many of the kids have outgrown the diamond. And when you come across the rarity of a 12-year-old kid who actually looks like a 12-year-old of yore -- you know, 5 feet, 90 pounds -- it fuels a rush of nostalgia, almost like seeing a Norman Rockwell painting of a freckle-faced kid diving into an ice cream sundae. On that wistful note, we move to the Weekend List of Five: 1. The Little League Stud
Yet another fascination with the LLWS is, of course, the LLS, or Little League Stud. Every town in America has the LLS. For ultimate proof, we return to the cultural touchstone that is "The Bad News Bears." The Little League Stud was never better represented or played than Jackie Earle Haley's Kelly Leak, who had it all: a dirt bike, a cigarette habit and a Vlad Guerrero-like hose in the outfield.