|Enough already! Bronx Little Leaguer Danny Almonte is only 12 years old. It says so right on his driver's license.
Questioning the age of an outstanding player is as much a part of Little League as postgame snow cones and overbearing parents. Kids mature at considerably different ages, so every year there are players at the Little League World Series who look as if they broke in with Jesse Orosco.
People questioned the ages of the Taiwan and Guam players in previous years, and now they're saying it about Almonte, just because he is negotiating an endorsement deal with Gillette. Whether it's Almonte or Sean Burroughs and Cody Webster before him though, there is always going to be some big kid on the mound with a deeper voice than Barry White and more facial hair than David Wells.
"I remember there were guys in my Little League who were like that, too," Mariners second baseman and AL MVP candidate Bret Boone said. "There were always those guys with the cheeseball mustaches who were already men while we were still boys."
That most of them still look like boys - or in some case, girls -- is a crucial reason that Little League is the only youth baseball league that remains of interest to people outside the players' immediate family. Little Leaguers are at that special age when the best of them are old enough to play a good, exciting game of baseball but still young enough to be tried as juveniles.
It won't last long, though. Those adoreable Little Leaguers will soon enough be giving classmates atomic wedgies and stuffing them inside lockers. But even when they grow up and have surly, lazy, unresponsive, skateboard-toting, SEGA-addicted children of their own, they'll fondly recall those days in Williamsport.
|He might throw like a major-leaguer, but Danny Almonte is really just 12 years old.|
"I remember signing autographs for the first time there," said Mariners catcher Dan Wilson, who played in the 1981 Little League World Series. "There weren't any groupies yet but there were definitely autographs. Signing autographs as a 12-year-old is pretty sweet."
"I remember that we lost to Taiwan in extra innings in the championship game," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, who played in the 1971 LLWS. "I remember the five home runs I hit. They walked me intentionally every other time I was up."
George Tsamis, who pitched briefly for the Minnesota Twins, still has the tape from the 1979 Little League World Series when his team lost to Taiwan in the championship game.
"I watched it again on TV and saw the kids crying and all that good stuff. It was a great," he said. "I've seen in plenty of times. It's something I show people.
"I pitched in the U.S. championship game before that and threw a three-hitter. Now they televise the whole tournament all over ESPN, and I wish they did it then, because I wish I had that three-hitter on tape."
Like the U.S. Postal Service and the local cable company, Little League is an easy target to bash, but I have only good memories of my days as a player, and later, as a coach. I still smile when I recall the mother who asked us coaches to please tell her son not to wear his catcher's gear to bed anymore because the shin guards were ripping up the sheets.
|Mariners catcher Dan Wilson, right, signed his first autograph at the 1981 Little League World Series.|
Not that it was always easy. Forget the infield fly rule; try explaining to an 11-year-old girl why she has to wear a protective cup or answering a 12-year-old pitcher who asks you what sex is like.
If Little League damaged my fragile psyche in any way, I'm not aware of it. My only regret is that as a player I did not make our Little League's All-Star team. When they announced the team and my name was not among them, I responded in the same thoughtful, mature manner that Al Gore must have after conceding the election last fall -- I went home and cried in my treehouse for three hours and then moaned for three days to my parents about how unjust it was.
I rooted for the team after that, though, experiencing for the first time how a winning baseball team can electrify a community. More than a quarter century later, watching Alan Peterson hit a game-winning three-run homer to send our team to the state tournament ranks with any home run I've ever seen -- and I was there for Mark McGwire's 70th, Joe Carter's shot off Mitch Williams and Cal Ripken Jr.'s at the All-Star Game.
Our team won the state title only to lose in the first round of the West Regional that year when some six-foot hulk from Red Bluff, Calif., threw a shutout and beat us with an extra-inning grand slam.
I can't prove it, but I'm sure he was 16.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
|The unbridled joy of a Little League celebration never gets old.||