Indeed, there was a lot of good baseball. There wasn't one bad team in the bunch. Sure, the Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming teams were pretty badly outmatched, but they showed up and played as hard as anyone else did. When teams were eliminated, they stuck around to support the teams that beat them (with one understandable exception.) All my early sentimental favorites (don't ask me why, it's a gut thing, just like which community I wanted to move to when I bought the house) fell along the way... Utah, Washington, and Idaho, and I still hadn't seen a ballclub show the kind of heart and poise I really look for in a team.
Then there was tonight's Aptos, CA-Glendale, AZ game for the West Regional title. With both teams throwing their number-ones, it was a guaranteed pitcher's duel. Aptos got an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. In the bottom of the fifth, Arizona scored three on solid hitting and smart baserunning. This is where my attention really perks up. Since Little League games in the major division last only six innings, Aptos comes up to hit next, suddenly finding itself in a do-or-die situation, three outs from a long drive back to Santa Cruz.
A lot of teams slipped here--Idaho and Washington notably. It's hard to keep your head on straight, look for good pitches, work counts, and run the bases smartly with that kind of psychological weight on your shoulders. But Aptos did it. Their leadoff hitter got on with a routine base hit. Their next batter worked a 2-2 count, fouling off four pitches past the second strike, to draw a walk. The third batter was a pretty big 12 year-old, t he kind that makes you say, "This is a good time for a home run, and this looks like the kind of kid to do it." I kept my mouth shut, baseball being the superstitious game it is. Tyler Raymond smacks a 1-1 pitch straight out to center field, where it drops a couple feet to the left of the flagpole beyond the fence, 4-3 Aptos.
But the fat lady's still in her dressing room. Since Aptos is not the home team, they finish out the half-inning (nothing more across) and have to hold Arizona scoreless in the bottom of the 6th. Again, this is an opportunity to piss away a game. Pitchers get rattled, fielders get anxious enough to boot routine ground balls, it's a real testimony to your character if you can keep it together. Which Aptos did. Three routine ground balls, three quick outs, and they got their trip to Pennsylvania.
And I got a team to pull for. For someone who really loves the game, baseball's still fun to watch even if you don't care who wins. But it's a lot more fun if you do. I figure it's a good omen that Joe and Lorah got married in Aptos a year ago Sunday.
Well off to bed with me... it's late, I gotta get the old car smogged and washed tomorrow, pack, oil my glove, and prep things so I can leave Thursday morning for the World Series. (Like remember to buy my fucking comics this week! Second-to-last Transmetropolitan tomorrow!)
The North County Times ran a nice article today about the Oceanside team from last year. They're still the gold standard by which I judge other teams, and so far this year, I have not been disappointed.>