LL World series makes good TV


It’s Little League World Series time on TV, and that’s a good thing.

It’s not all Little League, all the time, but it feels darn close as ESPN and its family of networks committed to air 140 baseball and softball games in July and August.

This past week, it was regional action featuring 11- and 12-year-old competitors.

Next week it’s the main event itself, with games from South Williamsport on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC beginning Thursday in a TV relationship that dates back decades.

Children playing baseball on TV in mid-to-late August has always produced compelling action. Years ago, episodes of “Wide World of Sports” with the championship game were among the highest-ranked episodes of the weekly series.

These days, ESPN’s investment in Little League provides benefits for both partners — money for the youth sports organization and programming for the TV folks.

From Thursday to Aug. 27, 32 games will air on TV. And, because of the intimate size of the two stadiums in South Williamsport, that means access and proximity that make the games feel different.

They also seem different because of the interesting mix of access, emotion and storytelling.

It’s interesting because the final product invariably seems like “Disney-fied” baseball — feel-good action with teams led by level-headed coaches and the players full of sportsmanship.

Of course, that’s probably not the case in every instance and with every team.

My guess is that the coaches who are not as supportive simply do not get their comments shared on the broadcasts as often as those who do. After all, those who end up on TV during games never seem emotional or frustrated.

At the same times, the players are talented, hustle and make highlight-reel catches while almost always wearing their emotions, good and bad, on their sleeves. Because of that, viewers can get drawn in or invested.

It’s just good TV.

Sure, there’s probably a bit too much attention and pressure on pre-teen competitors — clearly a bad thing and a topic worthy of several columns — but it’s easy for me to rationalize that and tell myself in the end they’re having fun and making memories.

So, we both benefit — them with a life-changing experience and me with some fun TV.

That seems like a good deal.

Tuner tidbits

n As part of its buildup to the World Series, ESPN airs “World Beaters” at 1 p.m. next Sunday. The documentary focuses on last season’s champion (Maine-Endwell Little League), which represented the smallest community to ever win the championship.

n NBC Sports hockey analyst Ed Olczyk will miss the start of hockey season with the network as he undergoes treatment for colon cancer. Olczyk, entertaining and steady at his job, often attended hockey games in Happy Valley when his son Tommy played for Penn State.

n Among the most nonsensical lines shared by on-air debaters regarding the Colin Kaepernick controversy in recent weeks has been: “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this.” It’s popped up with some regularity, and it’s really not part of any discussion about why or why not the former standout quarterback has not been signed by an NFL team. It’s out of place because it’s a personal critique from one person to another, having nothing to do with the QB or the related issue. While TV sports execs often encourage on-air talent to “embrace debate,” that approach comes off as lazy in this application.

Sampsell comments on TV and radio for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.