Not only was it the most fun I ever had on a baseball diamond, but it taught me so many life lessons about how to play the game the right way and act on and off the field.
Fortune enough to be coached and surrounded by great people who cared about more than just winning baseball games, Little League taught me more than anything else that there is more to life than winning and losing.
It appears as thought that message was hidden and locked away from the boys of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.
Last week, the U.S. champs were forced to vacate all of its wins from the 2014 Little League World Series upon an investigation that discovered coaches and parents had added players from outside of its geographical location to put together a better team.
Have we lost all of our dignity or just 99 percent of it? Because if Little League has lost its purity, then I’m not sure any great American sporting event still possess the charisma and charm they so claim to posses.
You may recall the 11 and 12-year old boys from Chicago’s south side who captivated our hearts (along with Mo’ne Davis) this past summer as they rolled through the tournament and became the first all-African-American team to win the U.S. title before falling to South Korea 8-4 in the championship game.
After the original investigation in December found no wrongdoing from Jackie Robinson West, a new investigation was conducted upon the release of new allegations from Evergreen Park Little League vice president Chris Janes.
Janes emailed Little League International claiming his team, which lost 43-2 to Jackie Robinson West in the sectional round, had been duped and been beaten by an “all-star” team that should’ve never existed.
Well, Janes got his wish, but at what cost?
Cheating is cheating, but what gain does Janes and his little league team receive from celebrating the crumbling of one our summer’s feel good stories?
This story particularly caught my attention not only because I, like millions of Americans, rode the Jackie Robinson West Little League bandwagon, but because for once in my life I actually understood what that moment in the sun was like for those kids.
I didn’t play in the Little League World Series, but I did compete in the district tournament and had some of the best memories of my life back in the summer of 2006.
It hurt knowing that these boys’ accomplishments had been crumbled by greedy parents, coaches, and administrators who cared more about Little League supremacy than showing kids how much baseball can give back to its’ participants.
At a time when African-American participation in baseball is steadily declining, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team was a great source of pride for the African-American community and showed that baseball could once again become a popular sport for African-Americans to play and enjoy.
But there was an angle to this sad story that hadn’t hit me until I read and comprehended Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen’s powerful piece regarding this issue in The Players’ Tribune.
Coming from one of the most dangerous areas in Chicago and all of America, the odds against the boys from Jackie Robinson West were stacked against them. But their trip to the LLWS had presented these boys with something that society had never given them before: a chance.
As McCutchen perfectly said in his column, the Jackie Robinson West all-African American team was shining a light on one of baseball and American sports biggest issues: giving every kid an equal opportunity to succeed.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, the former Washington Post journalist talks about why some people succeed and others don’t.
One of the biggest determinations as to who does and doesn’t succeed is opportunity.
When kids come from middle-class families where parents can afford to pay for summer travel teams, partake in expensive personal lessons, and buy the newest baseball equipment every year, it significantly stacks the odds against African-American kids like the ones from Chicago’s south side.
While the rest of America can at least open the door to the possibility of success, many kids from low-income/high-crime rate areas don’t even get the opportunity of achieving success.
The boys from Jackie Robinson West are no different than kids from any other low-income/high-crime rate area in America. Opportunity, the word upper-middle class Americans use so frequently, has evaded these boys for their entire lives.
For two weeks this past summer, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team had the opportunity of a lifetime. And because a few adults from multiple parties became greedy and wanted so desperately play vicariously through their children, those 11 and 12-year old boys’ moments in the sun will forever be tainted.
What a shame.
Let’s just hope that there’s some dignity and humanity left out there in the sports world.