As Little League and Babe Ruth baseball begin their season-ending tournaments, and the American Legion program just wrapped its up, here are a few final thoughts for this summer:
Little League is playing favorites that can only tarnish its image, based on a report by the Williamsport Sun-Gazette's Chris Masse. Masse, a colleague at the sister paper to The Sentinel, said via Facebook Monday that a reporter and photographer from his organization - which has been covering Little League since Carl Stotz came up with the idea - were denied access to the hometown favorite Keystone team on arrival in South Williamsport that night.
Actually, he said, everyone was denied a chance to talk to the team - except ESPN. Little League is run by people from Williamsport, and they should be reminding both ESPN and its employees that this is about the kids and the community, not about the Disney company's bottom line.
Legion ball struggles in some communities - Juniata County no longer has a program; Mount Union players have been dotting the Bellefonte roster of late (despite Legion rules that theoretically require at least some of them to play for or be cut by Mifflin County first).
Some point to the level of competition for the interest of young men- jobs, vacations, video games, perhaps even girls - but the manager of one of the state's top Legion programs cites another problem: showcase teams.
Kevin Manero, the Nor-Gwyn skipper, asks whether players should pay when they can just play in a column he wrote for the Times-Herald in Norristown. He asks whether AAU programs and other so-called elite teams - many of which costs families thousands of dollars to be part of - are worth the money. Manero writes:
"Many tournament teams have spawned when talented kids leave an established program, set up tournament teams full of good players, and then a year or two later... disappear to be replaced by another temporary team somewhere else."
"...who wouldn't want only the best for his or her own son, but perhaps maybe if the good players would stick around for the commitment of community based teams, and the focus would be on getting good people involved to run these teams, and continue to build them, then we would not even need teams with registration fees of over $2,000+ for a season ..."
Food for thought.
Of course, it wouldn't be a baseball season without Ray Wilde and I arguing over some Babe Ruth rule (usually the lack of a meaningful mercy rule when scores get in the neighborhood of 40-0). Even Ray seems willing to concede the local league's insistence on restarting a suspended game at the beginning may be unnecessary with a 27-game schedule to play.
And while the locals have no control over the district, state or national tournament rules, they could address both of these issues in Mifflin County - for the betterment of the kids, in my opinion.
Ray and I really sparred this year when I asked why the league president was issuing an apology over a forfeited game through the newspaper. A tradition, Ray says.
I still ask: Why is the league president apologizing for enforcing a league rule? He should be proud of that. The only apology should be from the person who made the mistake that led to the forfeit, and it's due only to the people affected (and I have no doubt it was duly issued, and hopefully accepted).
Finally, two good-news tales to end the season:
A member of The Sentinel's office staff came across two photos from the past, youthful players who went on to represent Lewistown in the state baseball championship in 2002. Thanks to now-retired baseball coach Ray Hoppel those photos are headed back to the families, whom I'm sure will enjoy a touching memory from their own past.
And a stranger in New Jersey contacted me recently, having found a digital camera card with video of two local boys. I'm guessing an Internet search led them to The Sentinel, which covered the baseball teams these two boys played for. The connection was made, and the family treasure was returned.
For all we do in print every day, moments like these remind me what an important part of the community a newspaper really is.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at email@example.com.