By Mike Steffanos
Little League, Big Dreams
Inside the Hope, The Hype, and the Glory of the Greatest World Series Ever Played
Author: Charles Euchner
Hardcover, 320 pages, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The first book that I reviewed on this site was Charles Euchner's excellent The Last Nine Innings, which used the seventh game of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks as a starting point for examining the game of baseball in the twenty-first century. It was honestly one of the better baseball books that I have read. Euchner has a gift for tackling a large, complex subject, presenting both sides of an issue, and being informing while still being entertaining. When I found out that Mr. Euchner had written a book on the 2005 Little League World Series, I was interested enough to take a look, despite the fact that I'm not one of those millions of viewers that watches that spectacle on ESPN. I always felt that it was somewhat silly to go crazy over a sporting event featuring 12-year-olds. Still, I'm aware of the incredible amount of hype generated over this event.
As someone who is coming to this with only a basic idea of what the hoopla is all about, Charles Euchner does a good job of showing me the driving factors behind the Little League World Series mania. He helps me to understand the motivations of the kids, their parents, their coaches, and the companies seeking to cash in on all of this. It comes as no surprise at all that Euchner does an excellent job of presenting all sides fairly. He does a neat job of summing it all up in the book's "Pregame" chapter:
To supporters, Little League offers a priceless opportunity for kids-and their parents and neighbors-to get together and play the game at the community level. Because they're volunteers, coaches do it for the love of the game, and that spirit infuses everything the teams' families do together. Even though most coaches have not played at a high level, they are usually lifelong enthusiasts of the game and have plenty to teach kids about hitting and pitching, fielding and teamwork.
Over the course of a season, teams often come together in ways that amaze everyone involved. Little League becomes a primary way for neighbors to get to know each other, and the spirit of teamwork continues off the field. After the fathers and mothers have dragged equipment to the field, prepared potluck meals, and traveled together to tournaments, they become a big extended family.
Along the way, the children learn not only the great game of baseball, but also something about how communities work together. If baseball is part of America's civic religion, then Little League provides the village churches that animate that spirit.
To detractors, Little League and its annual World Series represent the worst aspects of modern childhood. Rather than simply letting kids run free in the summertime, to play games and swim and build forts, modern parents insist on organizing and professionalizing childhood. Kids get signed up for Little League, swim teams, computer camps, basketball tournaments, music lessons, church retreats and don't have a chance to make their own worlds.
Parents and coaches are so determined to win that they put their kids through grinding summers of practices and tournaments with travel teams. Before their arms have fully developed, kids are throwing curveballs that could ruin their arms forever. The kids are told to commit fully or get off the team. When they travel to tournaments, they aren't allowed to swim in hotel or dorm pools for fear that they'll stub a toe or overtax their developing muscles. When they lose, they get chastised. When they win, they're told they didn't win by enough.
When an umpire blows a call, the coaches and parents complain bitterly. They stomp around and scream (as I heard countless times following Little League tournaments), "You suck, ump!"
Behind the scenes, some families quarrel with each other. With TV time on the line, some parents snipe about playing time. Why does her kid get to pitch? My kid's better! When a manager makes a questionable decision on the field, parents are quick to complain. After games, cell phones ring with grievances about field strategy and treatment of kids.
Experts on youth sports have a term to express the problems that swirl around major events like the Little League World Series-Achievement by Proxy Disorder, or ABPD. When parents and coaches depend on their children to succeed for the sake of the adults, competition becomes corrupted. Kids should play for enjoyment, to develop their bodies, and learn teamwork and fair play. But the adults often turn the game into their own field of dreams.
Euchner's book explores all facets of that 2005 Little League World Series. He gives us a look at the top teams the various strategies and training philosophies that they utilize in trying to achieve the glory of winning what Euchner rightfully identifies as "the hardest tournament anywhere to win." We get to know the coaches and the players. Euchner takes us to Hawaii and Curacao to learn more about the two teams who would play for the championship. He explores the different ways other top teams search for the edge that might bring them home a championship trophy. It's fascinating, and at the same time a little sad, when you consider these athletes are only 12 years old.
Even knowing that, I couldn't help but get caught up in the drama of the championship game. Euchner, as he did in The Last Nine Innings, presents a lot of information, but never loses his touch for telling a good story. You are entertained while you are being informed, and Euchner seems to be at his very best when he is weaving many complex parts seamlessly into a compelling story. As someone who understands how difficult this is, I can only admire him and hate him a little for this facility. As with Charles Euchner's other baseball book, this one comes with my highest recommendation for a sports book that is both smart and an entertaining read.
I link below to the publisher's store. This book can also be found at the usual on-line and brick-and-mortar outlets.
Buy Little League, Big Dreams from Sourcebooks.