Raging tantrums and rebellious streaks aside, having a two-year-old boy is proving to be fun and enlightening. The kid is taking interest in a wide range of activities – he’s fond of the ocean, and loves his skateboard, and is really digging music; we bought him a junior-sized guitar, and he loves watching his uncle play the piano. Naturally, Beth and I are bragging to everyone that we have an ubermensch prodigy on our hands, and we look forward to the day when we can live off of the huge amounts of cash that our next-gen Jack Johnson will give to us once he’s hit the big time.
Kidding, of course, but as we know, there are parents out there who for their own selfish reasons put incredible amounts of pressure on their kids to succeed. No where is this more evident than in kids’ sports. In Charles Euchner’s new book, Little League, Big Dreams, readers get a look inside the big business that is the Little League World Series. The book paints a picture of driven coaches, overbearing parents, and 11 year olds who are treated like MLB All-Stars. It’s an intriguing, if occasionally frustrating read.
Euchner uses the 2005 Little League World Series as the centerpiece of his exploration into the Little League phenomenon. He recounts how Little League was formed, and how it’s grown into a multi-million dollar business – over 5 million viewers tuned into the 2005 Series, and the young players receive endorsement offers and other perks. Much of the book revolves around the professionalisation of these kids; Euchner explores the issues behind “travel teams”, and the increasing number of young kids whose athletic careers are ruined by injuries caused by the level of play. There are some recognizable names associated with the Little League – former MLB’er Dante Bichette is a coach who features prominently in the book (and becomes a centerpoint for one controversial game). And a number of the kids are profiled as well, though (and this should come as no surprise, if you’ve ever tried getting an 11-year old kid to engage in conversation) we really don’t get much insight into how they feel about performing on this very competitive stage.
I enjoyed the book, but there were a couple of aspects that didn’t sit well with me. There’s no suspense – I’m not a follower of Little League, and had no idea who won that series. Euchner spoils that for the reader in the book’s prologue. And at times, the writing loses a bit of focus – sections on pin-trading and the role of faith/religion in sports seem to me to be unnecessary. Still, I’d recommend it for parents who are thinking about signing their kid up for their local baseball team.