Little League used to be one of those places.
Well, suffice it to say the next time they throw a parade at the Little League World Series, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would be right at home as grand marshals, waving to the crowd while thinking up new ways to Gumby the rules.
This just in from the Little League Softball World Series: Apparently a team from Snohomish, Wash., in order to avoid playing a team from Iowa it barely beat the first time they played, threw its game against a North Carolina team because, by doing so, it would knock the team from Iowa out of the tournament,
According to WHO out of Des Moines and other sources, the Snohomishes -- try saying that 10 times really fast -- sat its starters and ordered each batter to swing at pitches in the dirt and bunt with two strikes. The result was an 8-0 no-hitter for the North Carolina team, a result that enabled the team from Carolina to eliminate Iowa on a tiebreaker.
According to Deadspin, Snohomish had won its previous two games by a combined score of 21-0 but had only beaten the Iowa team 4-3. Which suggests the Snohomishes laid down to avoid a rematch with the Iowans.
You'd like to say this was a new low for the Little League World Series, softball or baseball. But of course it isn't.
It's merely the yearly scandal for an event that seems to require one, whether it involves creative math on birth certificates or (in the case of the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago last year), creative geography. This is always a shame, because there's so much good and right and hopeful coming out of Williamsport, Pa., every year, which is why it now gets the full ESPN treatment from the regional level on.
And perhaps why there is always a scandal every year. Because who wouldn't do almost anything to get the full ESPN treatment?
The Blob has long been ambivalent about the Worldwide Leader turning 12-year-olds into TV stars, because nothing is more corrupting than the all-seeing eye of TV. Simply by its very presence, it changes every dynamic of the events it covers. People simply behave differently when the cameras go on, and a lot of times not in a good way.
That's because everyone wants to be in that bright circle of light -- wants to be, well, a star. And to behave the way they think stars should behave.
It takes a coach with world-class perspective to keep his kids' feet on the ground in that situation, and even to keep his own feet on the ground. TV is the ultimate tempter, and sometimes even good people succumb to it.
Case in point: The coaches and kids from Snohomish.
Among its many virtues, Little League, done right, is an invaluable compass for the developing value systems of young people. I can't conceive what kind of warped compass reading the kids from Snohomish were getting in that game against North Carolina. Giving 100 percent all the time is, after all, the default position for every responsible youth coach everywhere. How confusing must it have been for the Snohomish kids to suddenly hear the polar opposite from their coaches?
Accounts didn't go into detail, so I can't say if this happened or not. But I would have given almost anything to see at least one Snohomish kid, and perhaps several, absorb what their coaches were telling them, say, "Screw that," and swing away with two strikes. And pass on pitches in the dirt. And keep trying their damnedest to win.
Those are the kids I would want on my team. Because those are the kids who really get what it should all be about.
TV and the grownups around them be hanged.