Don't be a downer: Have fun with the #TaneyDragons...the kids sure are

Don't be a downer: Have fun with the #TaneyDragons...the kids sure are
August 18, 2014, 11:15 am
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I used to be like (some of) you.

I always found it silly that a bunch of 12-year-olds playing baseball took over my TV every summer from some idyllic small town in central Pennsylvania.

Then -- after 18 years in my comfortable Philadelphia suburb and four more in the big city -- I moved to that idyllic small town.

There, I, one of the world's most cynical people, saw first-hand that there are a few things in the world that are exactly as awesome as they are meant to seem.

The story of the Taney Dragons has taken this city by storm -- and for good reason. It's fun. It's happy. It's exciting.

It's all the things most sports teams in Philadelphia are not, and it comes at a time when most of the stories in town -- sports and non-sports alike (Philly schools, anyone?) -- are downright depressing.

But the local team's success has only served to amplify the same group of curmudgeons who, every year around this time, complain about how awful it is to "exploit" these kids and how "we don't need to see every game on TV" and "GOD FORBID STOP SHOWING THE CRYING KID WHO JUST MADE AN ERROR!"

(I will preemptively say I like the people whose tweets I'm about to share, I just don't agree in this case)

Look, I love the Taney story. I really do. But as @MikeSielski has said- the fact that all these games are on the tube is not cool.

— Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney) August 18, 2014

Wrote it 9 yrs ago. Stand by every word today: cc. @KevinCooney, @jrfingerCSN #TaneyTalk #LLWS

— Mike Sielski (@MikeSielski) August 18, 2014

this is fun to watch, but damn, it’s not healthy for these kids.

— John Finger (@jrfingerCSN) August 18, 2014

Look, if you don't like watching the Little League World Series, that's fine. I don't usually watch it either, except for background noise.

And if you don't like the way ESPN sometimes takes things a little too seriously in Williamsport, that's understandable too. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I'm as big of an ESPN basher as there is.

Or if you don't like the occasional Little League coach or parent who thinks he's the next Tony LaRussa, who yells at the kids and tries to go with a lefty-lefty matchup in the bottom of the fifth, I'm right there with you.

But please, let's not pretend that playing baseball on TV for two weeks is ruining the health of a bunch of 12-year-olds.  

Right now, Mo'ne Davis, Zion Spearman, Kai Cummings and the rest of the Taney Dragons are experiencing any kid's version of fantasy camp.

I lived in Williamsport for just shy of two years, where I worked in the sports department of the local newspaper. In the days leading up to my first World Series experience, I was just as cynical as the rest of you.

But then I saw what the event means to the people of Williamsport and north-central Pennsylvania. How much pride they take in it. How it is embraced by people who have never met any of these kids and will likely never see them again. How the kids and players are treated and what the experience is like.

Players spend their time in a well-stocked, lavish dormitory at the Little League complex that is off-limits to the media and even their own parents. When they're not playing on one of the two fields -- fields so beautiful that, at first sight, they drop the jaws of even the most jaded adults -- they are in the dorms with kids from all over the world. 

You know what they do there? They eat pizza. They play ping-pong. They challenge each other to video games. They swim in the pool. They sleep. They talk about how girls (or boys) have cooties (12-year-olds still think that, right?).

They do all the stuff 12-year-olds love to do, in a setting none of them could have ever dreamed of. And every few days, they play a baseball game in front of as many as 40 or 50,000 people, who get to watch for free and cheer on kids they've never met.

Think back to when you were 12. How awful would that have been?

Cue the haters: "Why expose them to heckling, booing and some idiots on Twitter? Just so we can enjoy a few baseball games on TV?"

Listen, I'm not going to defend a few idiots who boo 12-year-olds or say mean things to them on the Internet. Those kind of people don't need the World Series to act like morons. You can find them any Saturday at your local Little League field.  

But let's take the seeming plight of Texas shortstop Matt Adams, whose sixth-inning error Sunday night cost his team the game and allowed Taney to stay unbeaten.

Were there people in Lamade Stadium who said a few mean things to him? I'm sure there were.

But I'm willing to bet that on his way back to the dorms, Adams ran into an elderly couple from Montoursville, a soccer mom from Loyalsock, and a family from Jersey Shore (yes that's a real town) who offered him a pat on the back and a "great game, man, you'll get 'em next time." I've seen it first-hand. Many in north-central Pa. see it as their responsibility to make sure the players, families and out-of-town visitors have the time of their lives. 

It's heartwarming. It's wonderful. It's the kind of storybook moment you think only exists in cheesy Disney movies or public service announcements.

But it's absolutely, positively real. 

These kids are making a memory that the rest of us could only dream of. A story to tell their grandkids. 

Just ask hockey star Chris Drury, who pitched for his Trumbull, Conn., team in the 1989 World Series, and has had quite a few incredible sports moments to compare it to since.

"The thrill of a lifetime. We were just so innocent. But we came together and just got on a roll. It was an amazing summer. ... You started just playing in front of your parents," Drury says. "And then the final game there's 40,000 people there, and it was amazing." 

Will a few kids cry? Sure. Will a few parents be out of line? Of course. Will ESPN make some stupid reference that compares a late-game at-bat to a life-or-death situation? Probably.

But for a bunch of 12-year-olds from Center City, or Chicago, or the Czech Republic, or Nashville, or Australia, these are two weeks they will never forget. And while it would likely still happen without every game being on TV, the experience would not be the same. After all, it's ESPN's money that helps make the experience, for the players, the fans and the families.

Was the errant throw by poor Matt Adams replayed on SportsCenter all night? Yeah, it was.

Did he see it?

Probably not. He was likely busy playing ping-pong with a kid from South Korea.