A couple of Sundays ago I awoke and saw that the Little League World Series was on ESPN. It’s 7am, no one else is around. All sane and sentient human beings are asleep. So what are you gonna do? You watch the young boys play…
Little did I know I was about to watch one of the great battles be fought, and witness the damnation and redemption of a 15-year-old man named Austin Batchelor. It was the New England regional final of the Little League World Series, fought between Massachusetts’ Peabody West and Rhode Island’s Lincoln. Rhode Island dominated the larger state for much of the game, thanks in large part to the actions of Austin Batchelor, who I’ll almost certainly never see on a TV screen again, but will never forget for the way he recovered.
Batchelor is 15 years old, which made him one of the oldest kids on the team, and the most visibly scarred by adolescence. He was surly, terse and spat almost constantly. He also had a father coaching the team, and was the main pitcher and go-to guy with the bat, so was carrying the team on his broadening shoulders.
He batted beautifully all afternoon: two homers from two at-bats, and he was the only thing standing between his team and oblivion. Unfortunately, he was also the reason oblivion threatened in the first place. His pitching, which had started out mean and whippy, completely disintegrated in the third inning. He was firing the ball all sides of the plate, and shaking with horror at the results, while his father alternated between glowering and adjusting his cap and pointlessly shouting instructions.
Rhode Island scored five runs in that horror third inning for Massachusetts, and the game looked lost. At 5-2 up they started to look cocky, grinning and fooling around while their opposition, who had gone 15-0 prior to the game, were visibly falling apart. But Batchelor stepped up and whacked one over the right centre fence, to cut the lead to 6-4, and suddenly the game was tightening up.
Peabody hit another two to RI’s nothing in the fifth, and suddenly the game was tied at 6-6, with Batchelor being walked due to the fear he now struck into the opposition’s pitchers. After their final inning Rhode Island got a runner home on a long drive to take a slender 7-6 lead, and Massachsetts were masters of their own destiny. They tied the game early, but were having a hard time closing it out. Through a combination of bunts and drives they loaded the bases, and brought Matt Hosman to the plate. The teenaged mess of wire-framed spectacles and gleaming braces didn’t look like a hero…
A grand slam home run to send them to the World Series (which in Little League is actually against the world, Peabody are playing against powerhouses like Mexico and lepers like Europe). It’s a massive moment, and the whole team knows it. And something about the way this plays out, on national TV (some of these games go out on ABC!) gives it extraordinary gravity. These are children, for the most part, – 4’6″ and 12 years old, favouriet actor: Adam Sandler – and there’s drama here, unencumbered by money and all the rest, which you just don’t get in pro sports.
I’d like to see more of it, is what I’m trying to get at. Next weekend the four best High School rugby sides in the country play for glory in Rotorua. I just checked Sky Sport. None of the six sports channels is showing it. TVNZ neither. You think there isn’t gonna be drama fit to match the above? You know there is. We really need to step our game up in New Zealand. There were twice as many people at Eden Park last weekend watching MAGS destroy AGS than were there a week later to see Auckland defeat the table-topping Bay of Plenty side. The interest is there, Sky. Just exploit it.