How Much Is Too Much Attention At The Little League World Series?
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Jonathan Newman was mad at himself Sunday night. And so, as sometimes happens when the 12-year-old pitcher from Pearland, Texas, gets frustrated, the tears followed. No big deal. Except that those tears were captured at every angle and broadcast in high-def by the Worldwide Leader in Sports to millions of television viewers, some of whom responded by calling the blue-eyed, freckled preteen a crybaby on social media.
Jonathan's father, Mike, digested this Monday morning after some friends from home sent him the nasty posts. Then, he "respectfully" responded to one of the nastier ones.
It's pressure meant for adults, not for kids.Mike Adams, father of Pearland's Matt Adams
"I asked him if he has ever been here before," Mike Newman said. "I got a polite reply."
Me? I might have hunted the guy down. That is if I was still capable of conscious thought.
Now admittedly, I didn't have the easiest time watching my son play Fox No. 4 in his first-grade production of "Andy and the Lost Barometer" (there were more lines than you'd think), but to stand behind the plate Sunday night -- where a howling crowd of 32,148 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium watched the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia rally in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat Texas in the Little League Baseball World Series -- was to experience a new level of terror and nausea.
In short, it didn't feel good.
Nor did trying to imagine how Zion Spearman's mom felt as her son stepped to the plate with the tying run on base and two outs in that final inning. Or worse, what shortstop Matt Adams' parents said to their son after his throwing error on a ground ball by the next Philly batter allowed the winning run to score.
"It's a lot of pressure all of these kids are put under," said Mike Adams, who, like Mike Newman, has coached his son throughout his Little League career. "It's pressure meant for adults, not for kids."
Both dads said all the right things to their boys after the game. Adams saw his inconsolable son -- "tore up" is how he described it -- and told him, "In baseball, you're going to make mistakes and life is going to punch you in the face sometimes. But my coach always said life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it."
Clichés are clichés because they are well-worn and easily applicable, and Adams said his son got it.
Newman told his boy, a straight-A student in his school's gifted program who struck out the final batter in the fifth inning but was pulled for another pitcher in the sixth, that "this was just one small step on his journey. It just happens he did it on a very big stage and I told him what he has to learn is to take that anger and channel it in a different manner than crying.
"But he's 12, and in his short 12 years of life, I couldn't be more proud of him."
Jonathan was the first player to console Matt, telling him flatly, "You didn't lose that game."
And when Jahli Hendricks, one of the Mid-Atlantic's best clutch hitters, struck out for the first out in the bottom of the sixth, he jogged directly to the next batter, Jared Sprague-Lott, and told him, "Watch out for the slow curveball. You got this," then tapped him on the helmet.
I was told about this later; I was too busy at the time feeling nauseous for Zion's mom.
Fortunately, Trazanna Spearman is in the social work field, and, even more fortunately, Zion popped a run-scoring single to tie the game.
"As a mother I'm always nervous," Trazanna Spearman said. "And it is challenging. I just try to teach Zion to be humble, and I try to instill in him that all he can do is his best. And he's very fortunate because he has excellent coaching and great, supportive teammates."
Kids are resilient. On Monday, Jonathan Newman and Matt Adams were dancing on the field with the tournament mascot prior to their game, which they won 11-4, against the Northwest team from Washington.
But consider this: In Chicago, more fans watched their Little League team in their opening game last Thursday than the average audience of either the White Sox or Cubs this season. OK, maybe that's not saying a lot considering the sorry state of major league baseball in Chicago.
But on Sunday night, the Oakland A's versus Atlanta Braves had an 0.96 metered market average compared to Pearland versus Philadelphia at 1.47.
I have absolutely no idea what that means except that more people watched the LLWS than MLB.
I also know that Mo'ne Davis has been quite open in expressing that all the attention is not fun. Her teammates have been turning down interview requests. And when I asked her if she thought she was prepared to be asked for her autograph when she returns home to Philadelphia next week, she looked at me as if I suggested Instagram was dead.
"Well, people at school know me, so I don't think they will ask me for my autograph," she replied. "But if that happens, I've known them so long so I'm fine with them."
They are kids and just want to have fun.Lakeisha McLean, mother of Mo'ne Davis
When I suggested she might be recognized in the mall by people she didn't know, her expression was not unlike the one I probably wore watching their game. "If a random person walks up to me, I'll be like 'ehh,' and if I'm by myself, it will probably be even more awkward, so I'll probably walk around with friends most of the time," she said.
Now Davis is clearly an unusual 13-year-old, seemingly as cool as any professional athlete. But even most professional athletes are not on every "SportsCenter" countdown and promo for a week solid.
"I feel bad that Mo'ne can't really enjoy it the way she wants to and is used to because of the media and everything," said her mom, Lakeisha McLean. "They are kids and just want to have fun."
Steve Bandura, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation director and mentor for many of the kids who have played Taney baseball, including Mo'ne, said he couldn't sleep before the team's first World Series game last week and Mo'ne's first start.
"I got up in the morning and felt sick and anxious all day about the game because, win or lose, I thought there's no way the kids [including his son Scott, the team's catcher] and Mo'ne could live up to all the hype," he said.
Some might contend that as they grow older, Jonathan Newman and Matt Adams will be the better for their experience Sunday night. Tougher. More able to handle pressure. The dads said their kids would never trade the overall World Series experience, even though it might not have been perfect.
But anyone watching that game with any semblance of compassion worried how they would be impacted.
"You want your kid to be the hero in the big spot, but you don't want them to be up there in the big spot because you don't want to see them fail," Bandura said.
That's all natural parent stuff. We worry. But most of us don't have to worry about our kids sharing their failures with some moron sending out nasty tweets about them.
"I don't think you can possibly realize until you're here the amount of pressure there is," Mike Adams said. "It's so big now with TV and social media, it gets out of your control. Everyone needs to realize they're just kids. They signed up for Little League baseball but not necessarily for all of this."