Mid-August now, and summer has grown old and weary. A million little tells are there now, dropping hints its hold is loosening: School buses rumbling again, high school football lighting up Friday nights, the very light in the sky taking on a different, bronzer cast as it rouses itself later in the mornings and flees earlier at night.
And then of course there's this: Two different universes of baseball showing us both the promise of the game, and perhaps its waning.
Every sports bar in America now has the somehow flawed finished product on one TV these days, and the somehow better, lesser version on another TV. On this particular night in this particular place, the finished product at one end of the bar is the Red Sox and the Yankees, renewing their endlessly renewed ancient beef from Fenway Park. And down at the other end?
Two groups of kids playing a game on national TV they've been playing all summer.
It's Little League World Series time again, and if once that was relatable to every American who ever picked up a bat and swung it during his or her summers, it is unfortunately less so now. If Little League baseball was the game unalloyed, the all-seeing eye of ESPN has transformed it into a Spectacle now, because that's the inevitable result when you turn the TV cameras on a thing. And now the TV cameras are everywhere, airing not just LL World Series games but regional qualifying games -- so many games, in fact, they've become so much late summer background noise.
The Blob has made its unease with this phenomenon known before, so we won't re-plow that ground here. Suffice it to say it still believes giving 12-year-olds the full ESPN treatment is something that should be viewed with a raised eyebrow at the very least. Proceed with caution, in other words.
Of course, that's not how TV does things. Less is not more; more is more. With the inevitable result that it winds up being less.
And yet ... you can understand why the teevees are so all in on this. Whether or not it's a byproduct of the Steroids Era, which has thrown a shadow over the game that exists to this day, baseball at the finished-product level has something empty at its core. It is not definable, and the Cubs winning the World Series last fall was a respite from that, but t's there.
This summer, for instance, baseballs are flying out of ballparks again. There should always be magic in that act, but the Steroids Era now makes us innately suspicious if it happens too much, and that's where we are right now. Baseballs are flying out of ballparks, but they are going too far and it is happening too often. The magic has become the commonplace -- and after awhile, the commonplace elicits not wonder but a shrug, and more of the aforementioned raised eyebrows.
Oh, look. Giancarlo Stanton hit another homer. Wonder what HE'S on.
That sort of thing.
But the LL World Series, for all the corrupting influence of TV, remains untouched by this. Whatever is missing in the finished product, it remains found in the Little League product. There is something purer, more elemental in it, something more in tune with the game we all grew up playing. It is, yes, less, but it is more.
Even now. Even if it, too, is on the TV at the end of the bar every day now.
Background noise it may be, here in mid-August. But there is still music in it.