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Show 23 transcript: Innocence and the Little League

Announcer - August 27, 2000

Bob Ley, announcer - You could easily believe that sports has mutated into bickering over the next dollar or the next million, that it's descended into a selfish cult of celebrity, more entertainment than competition. Then, as a fan once noted, you go home, turn on the television, see a young batter digging into the box and hear the announcer tell you the batter's favorite book is "Green Eggs and Ham."

There is still a place where hot dogs cost 75 cents and soda a quarter. But how long can the Little League World Series remain this last bastion of sports innocence?

Next year, the World Series field will double. TV, this company, has already expanded coverage to 10 national telecasts. Even before yesterday's championship game, the team from Bellaire, Texas, was fielding telephone calls from the Letterman and Leno shows. Parades were already being planned. This is heavy stuff for 11- and 12-year-olds.

The hope would be all kids leave Williamsport in the spirit of the youngsters from Brownsburg, Indiana, last year. After they were eliminated, players scooped up infield dirt into bottles to save along with their memories. And then a team that went 0-and-3 took a victory lap.

Sal Paolantonio visited this place where old values are staging a holding action.

Unidentified male - Little League extra, 30 (ph) cents!

Sal Paolantonio, ESPN correspondent (voice-over) - Every August, Williamsport, in the heart of Pennsylvania, transforms itself from a sleepy old lumber town to a child's ultimate playground. The sanctuary is baseball. The dream, playing in the Little League World Series, is real.

(on camera)- Did you ever think you'd get to play in this game?

Tim O'Donnell, Davenport Iowa Little Leaguer - No. No. I've been watching the games. Like last year, I was watching them all the time. And everything I'd be on the field to play at the place.

Andrew Pate, Davenport Iowa Little Leaguer - When we made this all star team I thought we had a good team. So we'd probably made district and might win and might get second in the state. And here we are in Williamsport playing for the World Series in the semifinals. And it's just awesome.

Terry McConn, Bellaire Texas manager - As far as thinking you were ever going to get here, it didn't hit me until I walked up on the hill and looked down at the stadium here. And that's the goosebumps and the whole deal. So I mean, it never really dawned on me that we were really coming here until we arrived.

Paolantonio - But getting to the World Series isn't without sacrifices. Parents run up exorbitant credit card bills. The kids practice day and night, often missing the regular rhythms of childhood, often missing their parents too. Even in Williamsport, the boys are separated from mom and dad by a White corral fence to keep visitors out.

(on camera)- So you guy have to meet at the fence?

Don Patskou, Little League father - Basically, yeah.

Paolantonio - You can't go inside?

Patskou - No. No. For the whole week, parents - his mother and myself - have to be on this side along with all the other parents. And what you see is what you get.

Paolantonio - Do you like that, Derek? Get a little separation from the folks for a while?

Derek Patskou, Toronto High Park Little Leaguer - Yeah, but like for a week and all we're here. I like being separated for a little.

Dustin Corl, Hazel Dell Washington Little Leaguer - You tell them something to bring something of yours, and you have to wait until they have to come because there's already (ph) some three to four I think. So you have to wait until three to tell them stuff.

Pate - They're here with us. But we can't really talk to them.

Paolantonio - Does that bug you?

O'Donnell - Yeah, sort of. But you know, we get to see them every now and then because they're at the games.

Don Patskou- It was his birthday on Monday, the day of the Japanese game. And his mother went crazy trying to get over this fence in some way to get him a birthday card. It was virtually impossible.

Paolantonio (on camera) - Here in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, small town America meets the big leagues. Indeed for many kids, a trip to the Little League World Series is a coming of age, some say innocence lost.

Do you go over in your mind ever when you're kind of like laying in your bunk or laying in your bed - what do you think about?

O'Donnell - What would happen if we won. I mean, we got the whole state of Iowa really rooting for us. And Davenport would be so excited.

Paolantonio - Do you feel pressure as a result of that?

O'Donnell - Yeah, yeah, a lot of people in the stands. It starts off not many. But there's a lot of people in the stands. You get a little excited and the pressure is on.

Paolantonio - Do you feel like you're a Major League player sometimes?

Shane White, Davenport Iowa Little Leaguer - Yeah.

Paolantonio - Why?

White - Because everybody treats you like you're one. Like, "Can I have your autograph?" And like the girls and stuff. It's pretty cool.

Paolantonio - Do you like all the attention that you get from everybody from the media and from...

Johnson - No, it gets kind of boring.

Paolantonio - It does, really?

Johnson - Yeah, I just don't like it.

Terrence McConn, Bellaire Texas Little Leaguer - I feel really special just that people think like I'm famous or just like they've seen me on TV and stuff like that.

Paolantonio - You like that?

McConn - Yes.

Paolantonio - Do you feel like a big leaguer sometimes?

McConn - Yeah. Sometimes like when I hit those home runs, that's how I felt. I just felt like just a big leaguer.

Hershiser - It is amazing that part of the dream now is to be famous. Part of the dream is to give your autograph where before maybe just part of the dream or the dream was to get to the big leagues. But with all the programming and all the exposure the big leagues get - the behind-the-scenes look, the locker room, the bat orders, how the equipment is made, what the players go through on the daily walk of their life - the kids know it all now. And they want it all.

Schwartz - The world today I think is just much faster paced. And they learned to live with all this. We didn't grow up with computers and TVs as much. And the kids are just more used to this.

Paolantonio (voice-over) - For years, only the final game of the Little League World Series was televised. Now every game can be seen nationally on this network.

Unidentified male - From Davenport, Iowa, comes this six-foot-two-inch, 231-pound man-child.

Unidentified male - They find themselves at the summit of Little League Baseball, the World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Paolantonio - And this year for the first time, every inning at bat and pitch is Web cast globally on the Internet. So these Little Leaguers go from their hometown cocoon to being watched real-time worldwide.

Lisa O'Donnell, Little League mother - I had to work one day and wasn't able to be in Indianapolis for the semifinals. And so I listened to it on the World Wide Web, and it was great. It's the best to being there.

Schwartz - It's just amazing to see our kids, our 11- and 12-year-old kids, being asked for their autographs and being interviewed on camera or radio and how they handle it. They probably do a better job than I do. It doesn't bother them at all.

Don Patskou - I look at that ball field. There's a lot of other parents say the same thing that, "Jeez, I wish I was out here." In many ways, I think we live our lives vicariously through our children.

And it's just the greatest experience in the world. I've never experienced anything as beautiful as this. I mean, this is phenomenal.

Paolantonio - With the growing appetite for the sports entertainment product, the Little League World Series finds it must grow too. Next year, 16 teams instead of eight, breaking a tradition that's been around for 53 years.

Next year, too, a new $6.5 million stadium. However, every fan, every mother and father and sister and brother and booster, will still get in for free. That, said one Little League official, will never ever change.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Sal Paolantonio.

Ley - And when we continue, I'll talk with a senior official of Little League Baseball, a college star who trains youth coaches, and a columnist who wonders if this hasn't grown too large for youngsters this age.

Unidentified male - hope and pray there's one more fastball in that arm. Two, two, swung and missed. Venezuela has done it. They have captured the Little League World Series.

Ley - Final moments of yesterday's championship match in Williamsport. The Little League World Series, is it the last bastion of sporting innocence?

Joining us from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the director of media relations for Little League Baseball, Lance Van Auken; from San Francisco, Neil Phillips, a former all-Ivy athlete at Harvard who is now the coaching education manager for the Positive Coaching Alliance; and from Portland, Oregon, Greg Jayne, the sports editor and columnist for "The Columbian" in Vancouver, Washington.

Lance, let me begin with you. An incredible story, the kids from Aracaivo (ph) came with one bat, a winning run on base bottom of the sixth inning, the sort of script I guess you folks dream about when you put this out there for a national audience.

Lance Van Auken, director of media relations, Little League Baseball - Yeah, it was a great game, a great way to finish. And you know, the Venezuelan team started out not very well.

They were beaten 10-nothing in five innings by the Japanese team. And they came back and won the rest of their games through the tournament, did a wonderful job. A great group of kids.

Ley - Neil Phillips, you've been watching the Little League World Series. And you train youth coaches at Stanford University. What did you draw from watching both the coaches and the players from the last week or so?

Neil Phillips, Positive Coaching Alliance - Well, the first thing is what an incredibly exciting environment for kids to be a part of. I think that Little League does a great job of maximizing the opportunity for the kids beyond just baseball.

I loved seeing the interaction between teams, interaction between coaches of different teams and so forth, and hearing that the kids stuck around until the end in the all star game. I think that just that participation and that involvement was a lot of fun.

And what I really enjoyed seeing was the coaches miked and hearing the interactions that they had with their kids. And for the most part, I was really impressed. I thought that they did a great job sort of framing the environment properly for the kids.

Ley - Let me ask, go back to Lance quickly for a second. Lance, the miking of the coaches. You hear the term Little League Parents League Coaches. There are sporadic and anecdotal stories about people who go over the edge. How much of the decision to mike the coaches was an effort to showcase the fact that you must believe that the majority of your coaches do an outstanding job?

Van Auken - Well, I don't think it was a problem for us at all. The coaches by and large here, the vast majority of them are great people. They've gone through a month-and-a-half of playoffs on the way getting here. So they just know what they're doing by then.

We have no problem with ESPN putting mikes on them during the games just to let - like Neil was saying - to let people know what's happening, what the coaches are saying. We want to get that word out.

Ley - Greg, you cover and follow the Hazeldell (ph) team, your paper the local paper for one of the eight finalists there in Williamsport. Now to cast you as the grinch in this discussion, but you have been of the opinion that some of this is too big and too large.

Why? And what disturbs you about it?

Greg Jayne, sports editor, "The Columbian" - Well, I just wonder if it's healthy for our national obsession with sports to trickle down to 12-year-olds. I remember going into the tournament reading the story about one of the coaches saying they come here as little boys and they leave as young men.

I'm not sure that should be the goal that we're looking for in 12-year-olds. And I'm not sure that sports is the avenue by which they should become young men.

Ley - Lance?

Van Auken - I don't really see that as the case here. We see these kids when they get done playing here. On the losing team, some of them might be crying.

But when they go up to the international grove, which is just up the hill from me now, they go up into the dining hall, upstairs to the dining hall in a recreation area, and they're playing Ping-Pong with each other and laughing and playing and using sign language with each other to try to communicate. That's really what the World Series is about is that interaction between those players.

Jayne - And I think that part of it is wonderful. We certainly saw some good stories this week about the Hazeldell team having an exchange with the team from Japan. And yesterday, they got to play in an exhibition game against another one of the international teams.

I think that's wonderful. I think when I hear those stories then I do feel like we are on the right track, like the World Series is on the right track.

But I wonder at what point this much attention, I wonder looking at all the coverage that we gave the team, looking all the ESPN coverage, I wonder at what point it becomes overkill and it becomes harmful to the kids.

Van Auken - The coverage has been going on for years and years. The first...

Ley - But Lance, it's a lot more now. There were 10 games...

Van Auken - Sure.

Ley - on ESPN and ESPN2. Just back in June, our network agreed on a new contract along with the ABC through, what, 2006. You're expanding next year. Let me ask you a two-prong question. Why expand the pool to 16 teams now in Williamsport? And why put so many games on TV?

Van Auken - Sure. That's pretty simple. We've always had eight teams in the - actually, the first World Series was 11 teams, and then it began growing. So we had limited it to eight starting in 1948. And all through the years, it stayed at eight.

In the 1980s, about 1985, we had about 35 countries playing Little League. Because of the fall of the iron curtain and because of baseball now as an Olympic sport, it's really exploded overseas, particularly in Eastern Europe. We have hundreds of leagues now in Eastern Europe.

We thought now was the time to expand the World Series. We have 104 countries playing Little League Baseball now. And we thought that now was the time to give double the number of kids a chance to come here.

Ley - And the expansion of the TV coverage.

Van Auken - Well, that goes along with it. This year, we had 10 games on national television. Ten out of the 15 were on national television, which was the same as last year. Next year, it expands somewhat because we're going to be playing some games simultaneously in the two stadiums.

Ley - All right, we'll continue this discussion in just a second. I want to talk about the effect of kids growing up with the Internet and also nonstop TV sports and how it is to coach youngsters as we hit the 21st century and as they go towards Little League World Series.

We'll continue with Lance, Neil and Greg and the uniqueness of the Little League World Series after this.

Ley - And we continue with Lance Van Auken, Neil Phillips, and Greg Jayne.

Neil, before the break, I alluded to all the things, the impacts, the parts of society that come at kids now - the Internet, nonstop TV sports, the sports culture. How does that impact on how you train coaches now to coach youngsters who are 11 and 12 years old here on the cusp of the 21st century?

Phillips - Well, we think that the youth sports environment is such a fabulous place, such a great fertile ground to help educate kids beyond the classroom. So what we try to do is we try to encourage not just coaches but youth sports administrators and parents to try to create an environment where kids are out there and maximizing the opportunities that sports provides.

So it's not just learning the sports skills, and not just trying to win, but learning skills that can help them off the field as well.

Ley - Is it tougher, though, to coach a youngster and do it well now than it was 15 years ago because of everything else a kid will face?

Phillips - Well, we're hearing that. There's no question about that, that there are a lot of different things out there that make that job a little bit more difficult.

And some of it is too much parent involvement. Some of it is too little parent involvement. Some of it is the fact that coaches seem to have less time for actual coaching and teaching.

So there are a lot of factors that are contributing to that. We think, though, that the biggest thing that's important is to try to find ways to say, well, how can we find a balance between trying to win and recognizing that winning is fun for everyone, but also create an environment where the kids are learning beyond just the sport?

Ley - Those are the people who coach, Greg Jayne. What do you think the adults - and I will tell you, quite frankly, our newsroom was rocking and rolling watching the final sixth inning yesterday. It was a riveting moment.

The adults, though, who watch at home. What do you think they get out of watching the Little League World Series?

Jayne - Well, that's a good question. It's interesting because our news room with a local team involved has been rocking and rolling all week.

It's amazing the way that an event like this involving local kids can really bond a community. It's amazing the way the people really rally around it.

And I think that's great. While you can paint me as the grinch here, I think the media often is - we end up in the role of kind of pointing out the warts of a sport or something else. And that's what we're trying to do here.

To me, though, I have mixed feelings. Being a sports editor, I like to think that we gave a good deal of good, solid, fair coverage to our Hazeldell boys all week. We certainly got a lot of good feedback on that.

But on the other hand, I can't help thinking we're all somewhat voyeuristic. I wonder what impact it will have to treat 12-year-olds as TV commodities, as media commodities. I'm not a child psychologist. I certainly don't have any answers for that. But I think it's a valid question that needs to be raised.

Ley - Well, Lance, what about 11- and 12-year-old kids who are TV commodities in that contract that goes through 2006? Certainly, this company, Disney, ABC, ESPN, the marketing in tandem with the X Games. There is a commercial interest. Does that bother you at all?

Van Auken - Well, like I said, it's been going on for many years. We are expanding the coverage. But for the kids, we see the reaction of the kids. And we follow the kids through the years.

We gave an award out yesterday to a guy named Bob Strata (ph), who pitched here on national television. He was interviewed by Ted Williams when he was 12 years old. And he's the chief of transplant surgery at the University of Tennessee now. And he credits playing in the Little League World Series, being on national television, as being a driving force for him later in life and becoming a success.

We don't hear from kids that were negatively affected by their participation on television in the World Series. We never really have. We just hear about the positive things.

Phillips - Well, I think one thing also that I'd love to add is that the fact that there is so much national exposure that the Little League World Series enjoys provides a great opportunity for what we're doing now, having a discussion about some of the issues that...

Van Auken - Absolutely.

Phillips - are facing youth sports environments. Some of them are very positive. And some of them aren't. And I just feel like if nothing else - and there's a lot more to it - but if nothing else, this provides a great forum. And hopefully, ESPN and ABC and the other networks will be responsible in the future and use this as a great time to talk about these issues.

Van Auken - Right. You know, and one issue with ESPN is that we because of the contract that we have with ESPN and ABC, it helps us to control what's done. We try to impress upon them not to dwell on shots of the losing team crying. We understand, like you said, like Greg said, there are warts here and there. And that's fine. We're open to that.

But by and large, the majority of all the kids have a great time here, even the teams that lose here. And when they come in here we tell them before they ever play their first game, they're already champions. And I think they believe that. And I think you see that at the World Series.

Ley - Greg Jayne, you can get a hot-dog I think for 75 cents, a soda for 25 cents. A lot of that is because I would imagine because of the corporate money that comes into the Little League World Series. Is there a great irony in that? You're able to get 1930s prices because of 21st century corporate money?

Jayne - I think there is an irony in there. It certainly makes me wish that I were back there all week to take part in that.

Ley - Can the Little League World Series maintain its unique character, very quickly, Greg?

Jayne - I think that it can. I think the one thing I would impress here is that I hope that it can and that it does.

I think for us locally, the most heartwarming story of the week probably is that our Hazeldell team actually could have advanced to the United States championship if they had laid down, if they had done worse against Iowa.

From what I read and hear, that thought never entered the minds of the coaches. They told their kids, "We're going to go out, we're going to do our best." And to me, that's a wonderful story. That is an example of somebody still understanding the purpose of the game.

Ley - And Lance, I can hear behind you some of the folks out there at the hill in Williamsport.

Van Auken - Yeah, kids running down the hills.

Ley - You got a baseball field, you're going to have fun. Thanks to Lance Van Auken, Neil Phillips, and to...

Van Auken - Thank you.

Ley - Greg Jane.

Phillips - Thanks very much.

Ley - Gentlemen, thank you all very much.

Next, the question of female athletes flaunting their sexuality, the reaction when we continue.

Ley - Women athletes posing provocatively, last week we considered that issue with U.S. World Cup champion Brandi Chastain, who has posed, and Olympic champion swimmer Anita Nall.

Brandi Chastain, Member of 1999 World Cup Championship Team - We don't hold all the responsibility. And I think we're carrying a lot of the load when I think the media has to be just as responsible.

Anita Nall, three-time 1992 Barcelona Olympics medallist - Yeah.

Chastain - That's what Anita was saying.

Nall - I agree, Brandi, 100 percent. But also we have to remember - and my only message to athletes, female athletes, is that we have to remember that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, you still are representing your team. You're representing your country. And you're representing most importantly for me females and the female point of view.

Ley - And from our e-mail inbox from Iowa City, a question. "Is this any different than Michael Jordan or Jim Palmer posing in underwear, or any male athlete showing their bodies in "Men's Health" or "Muscle and Fitness"? I don't feel it is any different. And I think people need to take this for what it's worth. Sexuality sells on both sides of the gender spectrum, because that is what society requests."

Those comments registered online at where our keyword is otlweekly. At our Web site, you'll find a complete library of all prior shows, both transcripts and streaming video, and also a place to register your opinions. Our e-mail address,

Thanks for being in touch.

Ley - Next Sunday, opening week for the NFL. And we will have a new Sunday morning lineup on ESPN. OUTSIDE THE LINES moves one hour to 9-30 Eastern Time. So make a note of our new time, 9-30 Eastern where we will be throughout the entire NFL season directly after the early "SportsCenter."

More now on the wild-card baseball races. Larry Beil, Dave Revsine standing by with "SportsCenter."

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 Bob Ley examines the innocence of the Little League World Series.
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