Traffic is clearing on the road to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with eight U.S. regional tournaments wrapping up in the next few days. Those eight winners will join eight teams from around the world in the grandest sports event for young people — the Little League World Series.
Little League Baseball is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.6 million boys and girls participating in different age groups from ages 4 to 16. But when you say "Little League World Series," you're talking about one specific tournament — for baseball players 11 and 12.
And this year, the team representing Post Oak Little League in Houston stands an excellent shot at representing the U.S. Southwest in South Williamsport. Post Oak is 2-0 in the Southwest regional tournament and plays the team from Tulsa, Oklahoma tonight for a place in the title round. The game will air live on ESPN2 at 8 pm on August 6. So far, the slugging Post Oak team has clobbered Arkansas by 14-1 and Mississippi by 16-4. Post Oak has plenty of pitchers available to finish the job.
I know all about Post Oak Little League. I was a coach in West University Little League, and Post Oak was our arch nemesis. Our season ended more than once shaking Post Oak's hand and wishing them good luck in the next round.
This baseball trip is a hit
Whether or not Post Oak clinches the Southwest regional and packs their bags for South Williamsport, I would encourage all parents of Little Leaguers to take a family vacation to the Little League World Series. West U never made it to South Williamsport, but one of the best weeks of my little journalism career was covering the Pearland team in the 2010 Little League World Series.
Not to jinx anything, but I've been watching Post Oak games on the Longhorn Network. If I were a Post Oak parent, I'd be checking Trivago for hotels in South Williamsport. The Little League World Series runs August 16-26 with all games televised on the ESPN network.
Everybody says the World Series is held in Williamsport, but games actually are played in South Williamsport, just a walk across a bridge from Williamsport. Two stadiums are used for the World Series — Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Little League Volunteer Stadium. Admission is free to all games and hot dogs are only $2.50. They'll sell 75,000 dogs during the World Series, but don't go by me: I'm not good at counting hot dogs.
Of course, I followed all the Pearland games in 2010, and the guys made it to the U.S. championship round before losing to Hawaii. I got to know the Pearland parents, especially the mothers who became the rage of South Williamsport with their Texas charm and wild west wardrobe. I know there's a rule, no cheering in the press box, but inside I was rooting for Pearland.
I also spent a lot of time with the team from Japan. I was captivated by their aggressive style of play — the way they stole bases in a game where you're not allowed to lead off first base. They stole off the catcher, not the pitcher. I shook my head in wonderment when the Japanese players bowed with respect to their coaches. Yeah, try asking players to do that in West U. Little League.
A trip to the Moon
There's still a drive-in movie theater in Moon, a few miles down the highway from South Williamsport. Now playing: Christopher Robin and The Incredibles on Screen 1; Mission Impossible on Screen 2; Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again on Screen 3; and Deadpool 2 on Screen 4.
Serious stars play Little League
While you're up there, visit the World of Little League Museum. They don't have a Hall of Fame — that would be crazy — but there's a Hall of Excellence for former Little Leaguers who've gone on to great achievements. Members include George W. Bush; Kevin Costner; Chris Christie; Joe Biden; Mariano Rivera; Tom Selleck; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Kyle Petty; Nolan Ryan; Bill Bradley; Tom Coughlin; and a pretty fair rocker who played in Freehold, New Jersey Little League, Bruce Springsteen.
Now starting at catcher: Donny Trump
President Donald Trump is not in the Hall of Excellence —yet — but "Donny" Trump did play Little League baseball in Queens, New York in the '50s. Trump was the starting catcher and sometimes shortstop for the Lance Cleaners team in Hilltop Little League.
Reader Matt Ganis told me: "We both played in Hilltop League. A lot of us came from a middle-class apartment complex called Hilltop Village. Donny Trump came from Jamaica Estates, where the rich people lived. We knew there was something different about him. He went to a fancy private school. We all rode our bikes or walked to the field. Donny was driven to games in a dark blue Cadillac." Ganis remembers Trump as a good-fielding catcher who could run. (He's still running.)
I had a strange and lasting episode the year I covered the Little League World Series. ESPN viewers don't get to hear it, but the stadium blares pop and country music between games. During one game involving a team of Asian kids, Bruce Springsteen's hit "Born in the USA" came over the loudspeakers. I commented to a Little League official, "Maybe this isn't the best song to play right now — or ever — when Asian kids are on the field and their parents and grandparents are in the stands."
The Little League official asked why. I told him, you might want to listen to the words of "Born in the USA." It talks about a U.S. Army vet down on his luck after we sent him to Vietnam to "go and kill the yellow man." And now he can't find a job back home. It's not exactly a happy-go-lucky patriotic song. The official said, "Please tell me you're kidding." I never kid about my homeboy Bruce Springsteen.
A week later, I received a note the president of Little League International:
I've enjoyed reading your columns and always welcome constructive criticism from any source. Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of "Born in the USA," but after reading your column, I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.
I thought, Bruce has a better song about baseball, "Glory Days," maybe Little League should play that one. Then readers pointed out that "Glory Days" isn't such a happy song, either. It's still up for grabs, but now I'm thinking "Centerfield" by John Fogerty might be the best choice. While kids on the field may not know Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, and Willie Mays, the message is clear: "Put me in, coach."
And that's the perfect Little League spirit.