For the past two weeks, 12-year-olds from around the world gathered in Williamsport, PA, for the Little League World Series. I love to watch kids play baseball. Most of the time, I am amazed at their athleticism. Occasionally, they still play like average kids, but then again, so do major leaguers.
My favorite Little Leaguers are the really little ones, the ones who look like the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones when they don their helmets—all head, tiny body. It’s their sheer joy in playing the game that gets me. I love that they run the bases in the wrong direction, that they slide too soon and crawl the rest of the way to the bag, that they are more interested in blowing bubbles with their mouths full of Big League Chew than catching a ball.
One of the things I love about watching the Little League World Series is the camaraderie among the players and teams. It’s great that they mic the coaches. We get to eavesdrop on their conversations with the players, hearing them encourage pitchers in tight spots, telling them to keep calm and do their best. My favorite was a coach that told his team who was about to lose the game, “No matter what happens, I love you guys, and I’m proud of you.”
Watching kids playing baseball and having fun was a welcome retreat from the recent news stories. Here were young boys with different backgrounds, from around the country and around the world, swapping pins, collecting autographs, and coming together for the love of a game. They encouraged each other, cheered for each other, challenged each other, and when it was all over, congratulated the winners and consoled the losers, even if they didn’t speak the same language.
Kids often teach us the greatest lessons. These kids weren’t afraid of each other and their differences. Instead, they took time to get to know one another and found common ground in a game they all love, a game known for sportsmanship. While they played by the same rules and wore similar uniforms, they still celebrated their differences.
I watched a player from South Korea signing an American player’s t-shirt. Both boys sported ear-to-ear grins as the South Korean explained the symbols. The Japanese team bowed to the umpires and fans before and after the game. Every winning team celebrated with raised arms and hugs and every losing team had their criers.
It’s the best of baseball. America’s pastime. In August 2017, it was a welcome pastime from the adults who can’t get along.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)