The packaging of this year's Little League World Series—all 11 days of it, with highlights interrupting MLB broadcasts—seemed market-research-engineered to make any viewer older than 15 feel like a cynical crank. There was the games' manic opening credit sequence on ESPN, featuring the scream-singing cartoon characters Phineas and Ferb. And there was the overt mother ship product placement: Williamsport's Howard J. Lamade Stadium was referred to as "the Disney World of Little League fields," and the peppy kid leading fans in sliding down the venue's mud-slicked hill was the star of a Disney series, Kickin' It.
Cumulatively, it all reminded viewers that this industry is built upon the efforts of unpaid adolescents. Note the video "scouting reports" at the official partner website baseballfactory.com, where one could learn which of the youngsters has a "smooth stroke," which "uses his lower half well" or which is most like Kazuo Matsui. (Hint: He played for Japan.)
But in Sunday's title game, the quality of the product overwhelmed its questionable presentation. The boys from Huntington Beach, Calif., edged Hamamatsu City, Japan, 2--1 behind a sterling pitching performance from Braydon Salzman ("loose arm action"). The winning run was scored on a sharp single in the bottom of the sixth inning by Huntington Beach's Nick Pratto ("explosive bat speed"), who gushed, "Greatest moment of my life!"
But the lingering image was one from which TV cameras quickly cut away: Japanese shortstop Gaishi Iguchi, whose botching of an easy double play led to California's winning run, weeping uncontrollably alongside his teammates. Whether it is right to magnify the successes and failures of 12-year-olds was a question for another day. At least the successes and failures weren't just made for TV.