This is one of my favorite times of the year -- the Little League World Series is here again! And this year, the whole city... state... in fact all of New England... is buzzing about our own Portsmouth Little Leaguers as they take on the world (literally) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
I love how these kids wear their emotions on their sleeves and on their faces. I love how the games are free of charge. I love how kids slide down the hill beyond center field on homemade cardboard sleds. Most of all, I love how whole communities rally behind their teams.
"Go Portsmouth!" signs are popping up at businesses all over town. Businesses that support local our Little League team at this point may smack of bandwagon-jumping to some, but I think there's significant marketing value in it. Just putting up a sign demonstrates that your business is not only here but paying attention and involved in the community. Our kids' success is also a positive boon to Portsmouth's branding as a destination; in addition to the countless media mentions it generates, the TV broadcast of the last game (the New England championship win over Connecticut) featured a little "intro to the community" complete with footage and demographics. This is the kind of advertising a tourism-based town just can't buy!
People really get into it these days, especially since ESPN. I remember following and being crushed when Saugus, Mass., was eliminated a few years ago. And I vividly remember my own days as a Little Leaguer. Pint-sized as I was, I was relegated to right field and the bottom of the order, but my Babe Ruth team was excellent, and were it not for a pop fly that went into some tree branches overhanging right field (the ball was lost in the leaves for a moment before it landed a few yards in front of me, resulting in the only run of the game), we might have taken the Cape Cod championship and gone to where these kids are now. But I get depressed as I digress.
Sometimes these kids look like big leaguers with the fielding plays they make and the curveballs they snap off. And others they remind us that they're 12 years old and make like the Bad News Bears. They openly cry when they lose and they absolutely lose their little minds when they win. The joy of the game demonstrated by these kids -- and the devotion of their parents, coaches, and communities -- continues to inspire me year after year, even if my hometown kids aren't in the hunt. But since they are, I have 2 words for you: "GO PORTSMOUTH!"
Update: We won today, 6-1 over Oregon, in the first round! Follow the schedule and the results on ESPN or on the Little League's own web site, which is not half-bad.