Column: The other "Beautiful Game"
The World Cup, international pinnacle of the "Beautiful Game," is now over.
Germany, thanks to its blitzkrieg of Brazil and outlasting of Argentina, will now reign as a true "world champion" for four years, while the rest of us bow on the pitch until summer 2018. The Cup's remarkable drama, passion and Oscar-worthy flops are now on hold, as we return to our regularly scheduled athletics programming.
But for those of you still looking for a little international flavor to your sports summer with near-equal history, passion and theater, there is one more tournament to take in. In fact, I would argue this event is one of the greatest in the entire calendar. And a good number of the pre-teen boys in your neighborhood could tell you more about it than anyone.
Hold your snickers...
It's the Little League World Series.
In one month, 16 Little League squads, including eight from outside U.S. borders, will descend upon Williamsport, Pa., to crown another world champion over the greatest sporting days of their lives. Although this year's New Canaan team has been knocked out of contention, you too can take in the magic of the tournament simply by tuning in to ESPN or taking a short road trip north.
Now let me be clear --I have witnessed hundreds of high school, college and professional games in more than 40 states. I have covered Major League ballplayers on the diamond before they reached the Show. And I understand some believe baseball and its three-hour regular season games has long since moved from America's favorite pastime to its favorite naptime.
Yet beyond a shred of a doubt, the handful of my childhood summers spent scrambling on the bleachers of Williamsport's Lamade and Volunteer Stadium bore some of the greatest baseball moments of my life.
For the Little League World Series is and always has been about one thing: baseball.
Nowhere else in the far-reaching world of sports is an event as pure as this tournament. Attendance is free. Players and coaches take the field solely for their love of the game. Every activity in and around the ballpark is set up to help expand and share this passion through different avenues.
And the entire series runs on the backs of unpaid volunteers who, like those on the field, give hours of their time and effort for baseball.
While few would claim the World Cup's cash prizes at all affect its players' tremendous love of sport and country, there's also something to be said for the incredible similarity between this tournament and the games you'll find just down the street, at the park or in the backyard. They're simple games with a simple objective of winning alongside your friends, who happen to be the best 13-year-old players in the world.
Furthermore, this August the Little League World Series will be celebrating its 75th anniversary, marking it as only nine years younger than the World Cup. However, when you consider there are an extra three Series for every Cup in a four-year span, this championship holds nearly three times as much history; three times the lore that these 13-year-old kids could cement themselves into with one swing of the bat or diving catch.
Most recently, Westport Little League captured the imaginations of many in Fairfield County and the country last summer, putting itself into the record books by advancing all the way to the U.S. championship. Down 12-5 in the fourth inning of its semifinal game, Westport rallied for a 14-13, walk-off victory over Sammamish, Wash. in what many called one of the best Little League games ever played.
And through all of the celebrations, forged lifelong memories and post-game acknowledgements of a game well played, there was only one thing at the heart of it all: baseball.
And that's the way it should be.