Little Leaguers getting infected by adults’ bad sportsmanship

Kids, by definition, are impressionable. They know only what they know, what they’re given to know and what they’re interested in knowing. And then that knowledge, often in the form of prompts, is applied.

Years ago my family was seated with the Drobnis family at dinner when talk turned toward the Vietnam War. Mike Drobnis said that after he was drafted he joined the Coast Guard.

His son, Danny, about 10 at the time, grew excited.

“Dad,” he said, “you were drafted?”

“I was,” his father answered.

“Wow,” said Danny. “What round?”

But impressionable cuts all ways, thus, by now, Bill Henel should have known better, should have cut himself a break and watched something else. Or read a book.

Henel was a Brick, N.J., Little League umpire for 20 years, and a member of its board of directors for 25 years.

“But this is my last year,” he wrote. “I’m tired of trying to tell kids about sportsmanship. It’s hopeless, and TV shows the worst of them as funny and cool. A sad state.”

Henel was among several readers who were watching Little League World Series regional qualifiers on ESPN to see that home-run posing and even excessively immodest bat-flipping has, inevitably, invaded and infested baseball games played by 12-year-olds under adult guidance.

Perhaps worse, is that none of these displays, to my knowledge, have been met with even a mild scold by ESPN voices. Quite the contrary. The showboating, bat-flipping, posing home run-hitter on the New Jersey team, so clearly copying from what kids are taught by TV, was applauded as delightful and in-step with how new-age team sports are played.

Henel: “The announcers thought this was funny and even commented that the kid must watch ESPN. This is what we’re teaching our kids. Sportsmanship is a thing of the past. It’s a shame.”

And, worst of all, Henel may be right: It’s hopeless. We’re just spitting into the storm. We can’t take kids back to a place they’ve never been. TV and its pandering voices and marketing strategists have done a number on kids, the way it did on their fathers, a generation ago.

And no media entity has done greater dirt to sports — and continues to vandalize them — than ESPN, the absolute worst choice to televise games played by children.

Years ago, ESPN televised a LLWS game in which a 12-year-old pitcher was knocked out early, after he’d allowed a bunch of runs. He sat alone in the corner of the dugout and sobbed, cried his eyes out.

We knew this because ESPN stuck a camera in that corner of the dugout to show a national TV audience this kid in tears.

And ESPN wasn’t done. On that night’s “SportsCenter,” video of that kid’s dugout grief appeared so anchor Rich Eisen, borrowing from the movie “A League of Their Own” could crack, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

To think that this clip’s reappearance had to meet the approval with at least three adults — editor, producer and anchor — before the kid would receive another ESPN, adult-sanctioned and ordered humiliation.

I don’t know what brainless, reckless, negligent, neighborhood-branding damage ESPN did to this kid, but I hope he got through what he’d clearly struggle to get over.

But if the desensitized wise guys in ESPN’s audience enjoyed watching this kid being further forced to suffer ESPN’s sense of kids’ sports and right from wrong, they were watching the right show.

This time around, ESPN has posted kids’ batting stats — favorably comparing them to major league leaders’ stats. Pathetic.

And nothing else has changed except that ESPN now shows more LLWS games than ever, applauds and promotes added forms of public immodesty, and Brick, N.J., is out one Little League umpire — its chief umpire — who tried to push back until his arms gave out.

The worst thing team-assigned broadcasters can do is what they’re expected to do: Underestimate the intelligence of viewers; play them for bobble-headed boobs.

Gary CohenSNY

Tuesday against the Mets in Yankee Stadium, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run, fourth-inning, line-drive home run to right.

SNY’s Gary Cohen: “That’s a double in any other ballpark in the land, but it’s a home run here, and it’s 3-0, Yankees.”

But as reader/viewer/listener Jim Sproule noted, when Mets shortstop Amed Rosario’s ninth-inning pop-fly homer landed in the first row in right, Cohen avoided the short right field issue. No mention that it likely would’ve been caught “in any other ballpark in the land.”

Soon the NFL season will begin and the TV view of games will be diminished and our attention distracted by bottom-of-the-screen crawls giving fantasy league stats.

But as reader Bill Maroney notes — and I’ve often witnessed — fantasy leaguers spend less time watching games than watching their cellphones, which, Maroney adds, “provide them instant texts, apps, alerts, social media and carrier pigeons delivering real-time data.”

So MLB sold ESPN the right to turn Sept. 3’s Red Sox-Yankees game into another 8:10 p.m. Sunday start. The next day, Labor Day, the Yanks are scheduled for a 1:35 start in Baltimore. For the Yanks, it’ll essentially be a two-town, two-team night-day doubleheader.

Thursday, as seen on ESPN, the manager of the Mexican LLWS team changed pitchers four times in one inning to create lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups. Mexico lost to Venezuela, 4-1.

On this day in 1985, Dwight Gooden struck out 16 Giants in a 3-0 win. Though he allowed seven hits and three walks, Gooden went the distance. Today, he’d have been replaced after seven by Hansel Robles.

Josh NormanAP

Not only has FOX added ESPN castoffs Cris “The Mentor” Carter and Ray “Obstruction of Justice” Lewis, to its NFL team, it has retained as its player’s perspective man Josh “Hit Out On Odell Beckham Man” Norman.

Wednesday, White Sox manager Rick Renteri a pulled two relievers who allowed no hits and no walks before bringing in Aaron Bummer (really), who faced one batter — he hit a home run — then Jake Petricka, who didn’t retire a batter before the Dodgers added two more runs to win, 5-4.

Which reliever this season has the most wins off of blown saves? Arizona’s closer, Fernando Rodney, thus far is 4-3. That once could be confused with pretty good, but it’s now evidence of rotten, By the Book pitching, as is his 4.81 ERA.

Say, I wonder if Gary Sanchez can teach my sister-in-law not to speak before placing a catcher’s mitt over her mouth.


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