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Back to keeping distance from big-time Little League

Ruminations on Jackie Robinson West getting stripped of the U.S. championship

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This much seems clear-cut: The Jackie Robinson West Little League team included players that lived outside the area it represented, and DNAInfo says it's because league officials expanded their boundaries without permission, then tried to certify it after the fact. It sucks for the JRW kids, it sucks for the Las Vegas and Philadelphia kids, and the whistle-blower sure has some balls, for better or for worse.

The decision by Little League Baseball to strip the U.S. championship from JRW, and the way to go about processing its meaning, isn't nearly as certain.

*I was extremely fortunate to have great coaches all the way from the first year of Little League to the last year of Babe Ruth ball, even though the level of success fluctuated from year to year. My teams ran across a couple superteams, whose rosters carried a few kids who didn't go the schools that were assigned to the league. I remember it being unfair. I also remember being glad I didn't have to play for those coaches, and I remember really, really enjoying the occasional victory against them. Given the boundary-fudging in a league with such low stakes, I just assumed it happens to varying degrees as the competition intensifies and ESPN cameras are added to the mix. It doesn't take much for adults to make organized sports weird and unsettling.

*The idea of revoking championships and vacating wins strikes me as mostly meaningless, whether it happens to a Little League team I wanted to see win, or an unscrupulous college program I'd like to see suffer. It's similar to my thoughts on the Hall of Fame struggling to reconcile the steroid era -- millions of people celebrated it in real time, and the communal cheering is the best part of the whole thing. Trying to cram it back into the bag afterwards seems like a quixotic attempt to clean up the problems caused by a lack of initial oversight, and I don't think I ever really feel compelled to recognize those revisions, at least on a personal level.

*I suppose the official revocation does carry more weight here due to recency. JRW has already benefited from the championship run to the tune of $200,000, but there was more money and recognition in store. Perhaps that would have lifted all boats, or maybe it would've boosted JRW at the expense of the leagues whose territory was infringed upon, but the published findings allow Chicagoland residents to decide for themselves.

*The White Sox, who threw their support behind JRW, are trying to strike that balance between perpetuating and abandoning:

In September, the Sox held a ceremony at U.S. Cellular Field. Spokesman Scott Reifert said Wednesday that the team's money was to support youth baseball but that team officials will re-evaluate plans to unveil a plaque at the Cell in 2015 to commemorate the team's U.S. title.

"We remain committed to that vision of growing baseball and helping kids in underserved neighborhoods, so we have no plans to ask for the return of the funds," Reifert said.

*The timing of the announcement put Kenny Williams in a difficult spot. He had already scheduled a media availability on Wednesday at the Tarkington School of Excellence in Marquette Park to raise awareness about the Becoming a Man program, a dropout and violence prevention program for at-risk male students. That gave him a platform to respond to the news about JRW, during which he provided some backing for the Little Leaguers. He did so forcefully, and with a unique angle about boundaries.

"I don’t think they’re applicable in the sense that you have certain areas in this city, and in every city, that may have a baseball field that is a viable baseball field … but two blocks away, it may be just the opposite," Williams said. "… (With the ACE program), one of the things we had to provide first and foremost was a safe environment, because some of the neighborhoods we were going into had problems with gangs taking the bats, taking the balls.

"If you lock everyone into the same category, if you lock inner-city Chicago into the same category as Naperville or some of the other places, you’re missing the boat. You’re not listening, you’re not in-tune with the people you’re trying to serve. You talk to me about equality, about fairness? The fairness is that the parent in Chicago that is in one of these environments may have to cross boundaries for the safety of their child, may have to do some of the things they’re being accused of at this point."

That's an area with which I am not familiar. At the same time, Williams added a qualifier during the session ("I don't know all the facts, so I may be speaking prematurely"), so I can't take his word for it yet, either. He may take a second pass at it with an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, although I don't see it on the site yet.

He's speaking at least partially out of frustration, stemming from the idea that non-human elements like zoning and bureaucracies could overshadow the personal and group achievement that actually took place:

"I’m pro-kid," Williams said. "I’m pro-young person. And if you’re pro-kid, pro-young person, you don’t take. You give. You find a way to work things out. You find a way to empower them.

"I believe the adults should be held accountable all across the board, more so than the kids. That said, if you think I am going to find fault with men or women who are trying to empower kids, who are giving them some hope, who are taking away from their families and their lives, taking time off of work to provide for these kids and in some cases serve as second fathers to them, you’re talking to the wrong person."

*I normally don't watch the Little League World Series, and even with a Chicago- and White Sox-centric story, I moderated my intake. It's the zero-sum nature. The part with the 11-year-olds realizing dreams is incredible, but it's counterbalanced by my aversion to watching 11-year-olds cope with the agony of defeat so publicly. Now we're getting a good look at what it's like when everybody loses.