The Little League World Series (LLWS) wrapped up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Aug. 27, and Major League Baseball commemorated its ending with its inaugural “Players Weekend.” This past weekend – and this past weekend only – players were able to wear nicknames on specially designed jerseys, wear uniquely colored spikes and simply have a good time in the heat of pennant races. The idea to have the weekend line up with the end of the LLWS was to show that “the journey from the youth leagues to the major leagues is one that players don’t take alone,” according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Some players got creative with their nicknames. Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards, Jr., had “Carl’s Jr.,” displayed on his back, while Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor wore his clubhouse nickname, “Mr. Smile,” in honor of his iconic smile.
Each uniform had a patch on the sleeve so players could pay tribute to someone who has played a pivotal role in their lives and careers, which allowed the weekend to be more about showcasing the players’ personalities away from the diamond.
The time until playoffs is fleeting, and the relaxed weekend was the perfect opportunity for players to momentarily forget that, have a good time and feel like kids again.
Former Cleveland Indians pitcher and Hall of Famer Bob Lemon once said, “Baseball was made for kids. Grown-ups only screw it up.” I couldn’t agree more.
While I don’t watch the LLWS, I love the premise behind it. Kids playing baseball against kids from different countries. It allows people to forget about what’s going on in the world for a few weeks while watching some good, fun baseball.
One of my favorite stories from this year’s LLWS was about two kids – one from South Dakota and the other from the Dominican Republic. They met one day during the tournament and found they didn’t speak the same language. So, they pulled out their cell phones and started having a conversation through Google Translate.
That’s what makes baseball great. Players come from all different cultures and speak different languages, yet they all know about throwing and hitting a small, white ball across a diamond.
Even when players make it to the MLB, they still laugh and joke on the field. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and a runner on first base having a conversation while a pitch is being thrown. Or how many times Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre exaggerates a simple play to make the dugout laugh.
Every year, my hometown of Dwight, Ill. holds an all-star baseball tournament at which I’ve umpired for the last five years. The tournament has three levels: pinto (7-8 years old), mustang (9-10 years old) and bronco (11-12 years old). Every year, it amazes me how much fun the kids have. They take one weekend out of their summer – which usually ends up being the hottest weekend of the year – just to play baseball.
Most of the kids don’t know each other. But no matter the outcome, they line up at home plate, shake hands and tell each other “good game.”
I wish MLB would have more than one “Players Weekend” each year because it lets players who are making millions of dollars feel like kids again and have fun.
Most of all, though, it makes baseball fun again. After all, what’s more entertaining than watching grown men play a kid’s game?