Giancarlo Cortez stood in the batter’s box looking for his pitch. As Kazuki Ishida unloaded from the pitcher’s mound, Cortez could probably see the ball was going to be inside. But by the time he saw how far inside it was coming, it was too late.
The ball plunked the first basemen in the crook of the helmet where the visor ends and the ear protector begins. Cortez fell to the ground faster than the baseball as coaches and trainers for both sides came rushing over.
But what happened next was perplexing to anyone used to watching baseball. Cortez didn’t charge the mound. ishida didn’t dare him to. No one came out of the dugout screaming and the benches only cleared in the sense that everyone sat up to see if Cortez was alright.
There was no conflict, no, as we like to say, drama. In fact, Ishida strolled over after Cortez had gotten up to shake his hand apologize for the pitch getting away from him.
Sound fictional? It’s not. It was the final of the Little League World Series.
Even in what was obviously the biggest game of these kids’ lives, everything was completely in perspective. It was just a game. There was nothing there worth getting hurt over. There were opponents, yes, but there were no combatants. In the grand scheme of things, everyone really was all on the same side.
This obviously doesn’t exist higher up in baseball, which is what made the sight so strange. Somewhere between the teenage angst of our high school years and the experimental ones of college, something obviously transforms. “Playing the game the right way” becomes so uncommon that it’s actually an attribute on guys’ scouting reports. Pats on the back and handshakes are replaced with pitchers throwing at batters for PED use.
And that’s not even mentioning the lunacy of someone stripping a 16-year-old of a home run ball at AT&T park.
Where is the fulcrum? Where does baseball evolve from being “just a game” to something fans consider life-and-death-like drama? It’s not a question of where do we go wrong so much as where did the right in the game slip away?
Somewhere along the timeline, baseball loses its innocence. It grows up. It enters the real world, if you want to call it that.
But why? What necessitates the change? Is it necessary that the game change?
I’m asking more questions than I readily have the answers to, obviously, but the juxtaposition on Sunday afternoon was so stark that I couldn’t not wonder these things aloud.
Even though there were bats and gloves and jockstraps and cups, the game the 11- and 12-year-olds were playing couldn’t possibly be the same thing fans watched later last night when the Dodgers played the Red Sox. Sure, there were still nine guys in the field and still six outs in an inning, but it wasn’t the same.
Somehow, with smaller, less-talented, less-mature athletes, the game was better.
And as pro baseball racks its brain looking for answers to problems it itself, for the most part, created, you have to wonder whether instead of looking ahead to what the future holds if those who preside over the game at its highest level should be looking back at what it and they once had.
When Bryan isn’t writing he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch!