I've always been a fan of Little League baseball.
First off, I've played it. I feel like I've had a bat, ball and glove in my hands since I could walk.
Secondly, I've umpired it, working behind the plate and on the bases of plenty of league, district and state tournament games throughout the past decade. I even got the call for the state championship game in 2007. That same summer, Coon Rapids, Minn. — the team I umpired — advanced all the way to the Little League World Series.
But most of all, I've watched it, having my television dialed to ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC from noon to night every day over the end of August for the LLWS. There's almost nothing that can lure me away from viewing the constant stream of games, highlights and action on the diamonds.
You see, there's much to be said about being a player, an umpire or even a coach (I also currently coach youth volleyball, basketball and softball). Yet, to be a fan — a true fan of the game — is something special.
And each August, I get to relish being part of one of the biggest baseball traditions along with many other fans. That's because during that final summer month, thousands of people travel to the small community of Williamsport, Penn., to witness what has become every 11- and 12-year-old boy's dreamland.
Fields are pristinely prepped and manicured to perfection. Teams represent eight states from around the U.S., along with eight international countries from around the world. Admission is free, concessions are cheap and — like I noted above — games at both Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums are seemingly endless throughout the 10 days that these boys (and a few girls) make Pennsylvania their home.
And who can beat the rules of Little League? Among them is a field two-thirds the conventional size of the pros, a pitch count that importantly protects young kids' arms from injury and my favorite: the mandatory play rule.
Here, it states that every single player who has a uniform will play. Whether six consecutive defensive outs, one at-bat or both, each kid will step up to the plate and enter the field. Honestly, in my opinion, it's the best rule of any rule book of any sport there is.
Thus, expect plenty of youngsters to be enjoying their once-in-a-lifetime experience at Williamsport this week. Teams participating from the U.S. include Washington, California, Texas, South Dakota, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina. Among the international division sits Australia, British Columbia, Dominican Republic, Italy, Venezuela, Mexico and both mighty international powers: South Korea and Japan.
The U.S. has something to say, however, being the defending world champions after Maine-Endwell (N.Y.) ended its season a perfect 24-0 after a thrilling 2-1 upset of South Korea in last summer's world title game.
Yes, I was watching every pitch.
And one can sure bet I will do the same 10 days from now. Games begin this afternoon, which means me watching almost non-stop starts today. Luckily for me, my Mediacom cable bill doesn't jump per hours watched.
Like always, I'll be rooting for the Midwest Region — in which Minnesota resides. This year, it is represented by Sioux Falls, S.D., perhaps the best story in the tournament. This is the first year of their league's existence, and they've advanced all the way to the LLWS. You can't make that up, so I'll be in their corner.
I like to support an underdog every summer as well. That said, I'll go with first-time qualifier Walla Walla, Wash. And on the international side, I can't pick against the Japanese. Australia, in their second year back in a row, is also a fun team to follow.
Heck, who am I kidding, I like them all.
And one day, just one day, I plan to watch them in person — a bucket list dream of mine that I will check off.
I've always been a fan. And I always will be.
Kudos Williamsport. I'll see you one day.