LLWS: A Staple of Late Summer Sports

Posted: August 28, 2011 by Kodi in Other

It’s that time of year again, BBQ’s, state fairs, back to school shopping and yes , the Little League World Series.

This event captures what sports should be, sheer fun and excitement, with the fierce competition that surrounds professional sports. Bases loaded jams, complete game shutouts, walk off HRs, the LLWS has it all, while emotionally unstable 12/13 year old boys replace the millionaire athlete. These young men wear their hearts on their sleeves and the ESPN production crew guarantees to show every smile and every tear.

The LLWS model was started by Carl Stotz in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1938 with its first season in 1939. The formula didn’t pick up until 1946 due to WWII, but by 1947 they had a board of directors who organized a tournament for all of the leagues following the Little League standards. There were 17 teams and it was originally called the National Little League Tournament, but became the Little League Baseball World Series in 1967. The very first NLLT winner was the 1947 Williamsport, PA teams that defeated the Lock Haven, PA team 16-7.

The first International LLWS Champion was the 1957 Moneterry, Mexico team who averaged 4’11” and 90 pounds, taking on a La Mesa, California team. Mexico was an underdog but they had a pitcher who could throw right and left handed. La Mesa was a right handed heavy lineup and this young pitcher, Angel Macias, threw a perfect game striking out 11 and winning the game 4-0. In 2009 the story was turned into a movie called “the Perfect Game” and Jake Austin played the young ambidextrous star.

The LLWS Alumni is an impressive list, full of MLB Hall of Famers, NHL All-Stars, Pro Bowl QBs, as well as boys who became LLWS legends. The HoFer’s include Boggs, Brett, Carlton, Carter, Fingers, Hunter, Palmer, Ripken Jr., Ryan, Schmidt, Sutton, Yastrzemski and Yount. Long time NHL players Chris Drury and Pierre Turgeon were both stars, but Drury led his 1989 Trumbull, Colorado team to a LLWS Championship against Chinese Taipei. What is more impressive about Drury’s Championship was that Chinese Taipei had won the last two LLWS’. The greatest streak of any Country or State is held by Taiwan, who won 10 of 13 from 1969-1981.

Matt Cassel was a star on the Northridge, California team known as the Earthquake Kids, as one hit their hometown earlier in the year. Cassel was 6-14 and his team won it all, but he was also on a USC Trojans team that won the AP National Championship and 2004 BCS Championship. One of the greatest player in LLWS has to be Chin-Hsiung Hsieh of the 1996 Chinese Taipei team. He was 12-17, a .706 average, hitting 7 HRs and knocking in 15 RBI as his team swept the LLWS, outscoring their opponents 62-9 and winning the Championship game 13-3 against Cranston, Rhode Island.

But let us not forget Danny Almonte who threw a no-hitter in his Regional final and followed it up with a perfect game in the LLWS semifinals. His team eventually lost in the finals but an investigation discovered that the phenom pitcher was really 14 years old, not 12 and his teams wins were striked from the record books.Another great player that came through in a quintessential underdog moment happened in 1982 and starred Cody Webster. Webster and his team from Kirkland, Washington were facing a Taiwan team who had won 10-13 LLWS’ and had won 31 games in a row. Webster pitched a two-hitter and his HR of 280 feet, is a LLWS record and his story became the focus of ESPN’s 30 for 30 special “Little Big Men”.

So how does a team get to the LLWS?

There are regional qualifiers, the teams that win that tournament represents that region. There are 8 Regions in the United States, Great Lakes (La Grange, Kentucky), Mid-Atlantic (Clinton County, Pennsylvania), Midwest (Rapid City, South Dakota), New England (Cumberland, Rhode Island), Northwest (Billings, Montana), Southeast (Warner Robins, Georgia), Southwest (Lafayette, Louisiana) and West (Huntington Beach, California). There are also 8 regions in the International bracket, Asia-Pacific (Kaohsiung, Chines Taipei), Canada (Langley, British Columbia), Caribbean (Oranjestad, Aruba), Europe (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Japan (Hamamatsu City), Latin America (Maracay, Venezuela), MEA (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia), Mexico (Mexicali Baja California).

The LLWS is a round robin tournament, two losses and you’re eliminated, there’s a U.S. Championship and an International Championship, then those winners play for the LLWS. The team from Billings, Montana was the first Little League team to ever reach the LLWS and they were 3-0 going into the U.S. Championship. They would face Huntington Beach, California, again, as they had just beaten them to get a spot in the Championship game.

Montana and Cali had gone 0-0 through the 6th inning after California couldn’t break through with the bases loaded in the top of the inning. It was the first time that two teams were going into extra innings in a scoreless game for 15 years. Montana was the home team and after getting through the top of the 7th Ben Askelson came up to the plate. He told reporters he was looking for a curveball and on an 0-1 pitch that stayed high the 13 year old had crushed the ball over the left field fence and hit a walk-off HR on national television.

Although California’s players eyes had been filled with tears, they knew that if they beat the hometown Pennsylvania team that they would get another shot at Montana. Hagen Danner was on the mound for California and struck out 12 of the 19 batters he faced, allowing just 3 hits. California had beaten the hometown kids by the score of 2-0 and had been awarded the rematch with Montana. This is a California team that outscored their West Regional opponents 41-6 and they had outscored their opposition 23 to that one pesky HR by Ben Askelson, heading into their rematch.

It’s not that the cards were stacked against Montana, but the odds were against them, because not only was California a powerhouse but the Western Region representatives had won the last 4 U.S. Championships. Nick Pratto was on the mound for Cali and pitched a gem, getting through 5.1 innings allowing 1 unearned run, 1 walk, while striking out 10. Pratto was on the mound and equally hot at the plate, hitting 2-4 with a run, and 3 RBI. His 3B Dylan Palmer was also 2-4 with a run and 3 RBI, helping his team to an 11-2 victory over the boys from Billings.

The Japanese team had beaten Latin America 9-6 before facing Mexico in the International Championship game. This was another rematch, where Japan had just one loss in a previous matchup against Mexico. Mexico had won the game 3-2 after Japan had taken an 2-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. Mexico didn’t give up and relied on a solid effort by their pitchers Alonso Garcia and Carlos Arellano. Japan was looking for revenge and it worked for California, so why couldn’t it work for them?

Japan started off slow but starting in the 3rd inning the young guys from Hamamatsu jumped on Jorge Jacobo, the Mexican pitcher. The Japanese team sent 14 batters to face Jacobo in the 3rd and 4th innings and had jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Japanese team had relied on pitching leading up to this point, but Mexico had rattled Yoshiki Suzuki and he gave up 7 hits through the game. It was Japanese defense that held strong allowing Mexico to score just 2 runs and Japan was on their way to a 5-2 victory and a matchup against California.

The LLWS turned out to be a pitching duel, as Japan’s Shoto Totsuka pitched 4.2 innings allowing just 1 earned run, on 4 hit, 4 walks, while striking out 5. California’s Braydon Salzman pitched great for the West, finishing with a complete game 3-hitter, striking out 9. There was a run allowed but it came after 1B Nick Pratto made a throwing error during the 3rd inning. Although Salzman’s only run came to the plate because of Pratto’s error, it was the 1B who would play the hero of the LLWS. It was tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the 6th.

After a walk by the pitcher Salzman, a single to center by Dylan Palmer, a strikeout, then a error by Japans SS on a Hagen Danner groundball, Nick Pratto was up with one out and the bases loaded.  Pratto was admittedly very nervous before stepping up to bat, but he kept telling himself to “See it. Drive it” and if you as the manager, Jeff Pratto Nick’s father, he would tell you his kids “kind of a clutch hitter” and Nick didn’t let his dad down. Pratto stung a ball into CF and the runner on 3B came in easily to give Pratto a walk-off hit in the LLWS, good luck topping that one kid. California was the newest LLWS Champion and the tears from the Japanese team were somewhat comparable to the waterworks flowing in Japan this past March.

The LLWS is probably the greatest sporting event that actually captures the raw emotion and competition that is naturally emitted through sports. It is always something that I looked forward to at the end of summer, that and daydreaming about screaming and shouting my kid’s Little League team to Williamsport, PA. I can’t wait to ruin that poor little bastards life, remember little sheriff its working on your curveball at 11 or learning the important skills of punting a football, because one way or another I am going to achieve my goals vicariously through him, or as my wife says “maybe her too”.

 

 

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Comments
  1. Mrs. says:

    Nice nod to feminisim, let’s see how often you report on female athletics. . . and i don’t mean the sexualized grunting

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