Last Sunday, while most of campus was showering up and pre-gaming for the fist big night of the fall, the best game around wasn’t at a Beirut table in Village A; it was in Williamsport, Pa. That’s right, the Little League World Series proved to be one of the more entertaining and uplifting sporting events of the summer.

Unfortunately, this summer hasn’t been a banner season for sports stories. SportsCenter has looked more like America’s ost Wanted between Kobe Bryant, Rick Neuheisel’s college gambling scandal and the Patrick Dennehey tragedy. There have been a couple bright spots – MLB pennant races and Funny Cide, among others – but the majority of media attention focused on America’s sports stage has left an awful taste in the public’s mouth. So it’s refreshing that for 10 days in August, there will always be kids playing baseball in Williamsport.

Maybe the national pastime has slipped from the centerpiece of American sports and maybe more kids would rather pick up a skateboard than a catcher’s mitt these days, but nothing beats an August night at a baseball game. Give me a bag of peanuts, some beer, a golf pencil and a scorecard and I’m set for the evening. Sitting down to watch the 11 boys from Boynton Beach take on the squad from Tokyo, expectations were pretty high.

Yuutaro Tanaka, a 12-year-old kid from Tokyo, had one of the most amazing sporting performances in recent memory. Check out these numbers: he threw a complete game (6 innings in Little League), notching one earned run, 14 strikeouts and 3.1 innings of no-hit ball. All that while going 2-of-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a home run. Are you serious? Fourteen strikeouts? That’s like 21 strikeouts in a nine inning game. Remember what a big deal it was when Kerry Wood struck out 20? Well this kid did that in addition to banging a two-run dinger into centerfield. Any way you slice it, at any level of sports, that is nothing less than amazing.

Despite the lopsided 10-1 final score, the game was entertaining as well. Watching Tanaka take a no-hitter into the third was exciting, but the best drama came in the bottom of the fifth. Down 10 runs with two outs and facing the possibility of the game being called because of the “mercy rule,” Boynton Beach needed to score to play one more inning. Richie DeJesus slapped an RBI into right, ensuring one more trip to the plate for his team.

While the single was routing, DeJesus’ reaction was nothing short of spectacular. As he rounded first, he broke out into a smile that could have lit New York during the blackout. And that’s when you realized that these were just kids playing some ball. Sure, they’re pretty big for 12-year-olds, but they’re playing baseball because they love it. There are no shoe endorsements, contract negotiations or lockouts in Little League – just baseball.

This is a game where everyone on the team has to play or you have to forfeit a win. There is no designated hitter. When a coach makes a pitching change, more often than not, he’ll take the ball from the pitcher, send him off to right field and bring in the third baseman as relief. It’s glorious. It’s sport in its purest form.

As Tanaka took the mound in the bottom of the sixth, it was painfully obvious that Boynton Beach had no chance to come back and win. The patriot in me always likes to see athletes representing our country come out on top, but the team didn’t really seem to mind. The camera panned over to their dugout, where every player was grinning. Then it zoomed in on a kid with a plastic sandwich bag, scraping up dirt from the infield for posterity.

After the final out, the Japanese team ran out to centerfield to the statue of Howard J. Lamade, a big financial backer of the LLWS, in celebration. Moments later, they were joined by Boynton Beach. Think about it. You’re 12, you’ve just played baseball on national television for a week, and not to mention that you are the second best little league team in the world – what’s not to celebrate?

Little league baseball is a symbol of all that is right in sports. No drugs, no extra-marital affairs, no salaries and no contract holdouts. Just a bunch of kids in a sandlot, playing some ball.

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