By Lenn Robbins
Some people feel reborn every morning when they hear the sound of birds chirping and doves cooing. Dave Belisle prefers the crack of the bat and thump of the ball as it hits the glove.
Belisle gets to hear that cacophony of baseball sound every spring, summer and fall. His property backs up to three diamonds in Cumberland, R.I. – Little League, softball and regulation.
You might remember Belisle. He was the head coach of the Cumberland American Little League team. After a heartbreaking 8-7 loss to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West squad in a 2014 Little League World Series elimination game, Belisle gathered his distraught players in short right field and delivered as heartfelt and uplifting post-game talk you’ll ever hear.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Belisle said. “We fought. Look at the score, 8-7, 12-10 in hits. It came to the last out. We didn’t quit. That’s us! Boys, that’s us!”
There will be no Little League tournament this year, which means the single best American sporting event of the summer has been victimized by the coronavirus.
“It’s the kids I miss,” said Belisle. “All ballplayers feel same way. They get to play the game they played with their buddies forever. It’s the practice and preparation. It’s the unity. They take pride they have putting on that jersey and playing the game with buddies that will be lifelong friends. That’s what I miss.”
I won’t miss major league baseball, which will begin “Spring Training” Wednesday, barring another possible virus delay. I’ll watch MLB’s 60-game season, because there’s little else for a sports fan to do but it will be background noise.
How I would trade the Little League tournament for MLB. It’s amazing each summer to watch 12-year-olds play the game at such a high level, with such discipline and so much more.
Little League is running it out every time a bat hits a ball. It’s pitchers shaking hands with the batter they just hit. It’s players not arguing with umpires. It’s teams shaking hands after games, often with the players from the winning side consoling those from the losing team.
It’s fans sliding down hills on cardboard boxes. It’s communities from Cumberland, R.I., to River Ridge, La., and Curacao to Tokyo being galvanized by their children and their neighbor’s kids. That’s what I will miss this summer.
According to an ESPN poll, baseball fans overwhelmingly (77-percent) approve of the 60-game season, with the Yankees and Nationals playing as per the NY Post. The poll might need an asterisk, like the Astros 2017 World Series title, because the worldwide leader in sport televises its fair share of MLB.
Don’t be mistaken. We’re not comparing Little Leaguers to MLB pros. We’re asking, when does the game that little boys play with so much joy and passion, get so polluted by contracts and vesting and revenue sharing?
“The only thing that gets in the way of baseball is money,” said Belisle. “Not when you’re in Little League. There is no money. It’s just the game.”
Is it as sad and complicated as money – the scorching hot animosity that exists between owners and players? Is it knowing that MLB and the MLBPA will sue each other with allegations of bad faith negotiating? Is it knowing there likely will be another Texas death match negotiation when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season?
So many MLB players made it through the Little League World Series – Michael Conforto, Todd Frazier, and Gary Sheffield. When did it stop being a game and start being a business?
As naïve is this is, for the owners, did it ever stop being a business and looked at as a game? A beautiful game.
Its pace allows fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, friends and relatives to add to the emotional quilt of their relationships while watching America’s pastime. Heck, just sharing a bag of peanuts and a cold beverage can get you a long way.
Here’s a thought, again albeit naïve: Next August, when the LLWS returns, a group of owners and MLBPA executives should sit together in Williamsport, Pa. and watch the 12-year-olds work their magic. If that doesn’t save MLB, maybe nothing will.
“It’s the best of times,” said Belisle. “I feel for the kids not getting to experience that. I feel for the communities that put so much into it – vacations, school, it’s all baseball, doing something together. You make memories on and off the field.
“The boys of summer. That’s real.”