ESPN 30 for 30: Little Big Men (2010)

Directed by Al Szymanski

Every year in August I make an effort to sit down and spend time with the kids who play the kids game, baseball. The best of the little leagues around the world converge on a small town in Pennsylvania called Williamsport for some reason. I have always wanted to go just to experience the purity of the game on a level not often seen on television or when you go to your big league ballpark. These kids have nothing to lose. They are there, sometimes missing the first few days of school to meet and play against kids from different places across the country and share culture with those from across the world. Baseball is a romantic enough sport to begin with, but have an event like the Little League World Series, and the romance flows like a river teeming with fish swimming in the purest of waters.

Corny analogy aside, each year at the LLWS features an American team pitted against the international champion for the title, and almost every year features a kid who plays like a man, leading his team to great victory. One year that kid was Cody, who played for the Kirkland, Washington little league all stars. Not only that, but the victory came against the all powerful Taiwanese team, who had been a powerhouse at the series the last decade. The star pitcher, Cody struck out the final batter for a dramatic victory which included a “tape measure” home run earlier in the game. It also meant that he was the center of attention after his team won the game, which is a difficult thing for a 12 year old kid from Kirkland, Washington.

I love the LLWS just as much as the next guy, perhaps more. The time spent getting to know these kids over the week or two it is on is always a joy. I am sure director Al Szymanski thought the same thing when he came up with the idea for the film and his vision for the story he wanted to tell. I guess my only question after having seen the film, other than did this guy have some kind of personal connection with the Kirkland team specifically, is so what? I guess I would have liked to have known whether there was a connection there, and maybe with an answer I may have been able to take the film in from a different perspective and appreciate it a bit more, but it really comes across as a proud dad telling the story of how his son did this great thing years ago.

It is a great story for any kid to have this kind of experience and accomplishment, but I say “so what” because what is so special about this specific team? A little league team wins the world series every year. America has won 34 titles since the event’s inception. Taiwan has not won since 1996, so maybe my perspective on this particular feat is cloudy, but at the same time those were both stats that I had to look up. And Szymanski never makes an effort to fully establish that this particular team or this particular championship was exemplary and more significant than any other year. I guess Szymanski tries to shoehorn in a sad tale about how Cody was picked on after the event for being fat or for being the boy wonder who peaked as a kid, but again, there is nothing which makes this situation unique.

I sympathize with Cody, I really do. I think it is awful that he had to face any ridicule, but most kids go through some sort of teasing, and the fact that his came as the result of being the best player on the best little league team in the world does not make me any more sympathetic. Szymanski’s film really seems misguided in terms of making a lasting impact on its viewers. For me personally, I pretty much forgot the entire thing the minute I turned it off. It is a great story, and the Little League World Series is a wonderful event, the only problem seems to be that it happens every year, which makes the Kirkland team just one of many. Would a documentary about the 1995 Atlanta Braves who won the World Series be an especially interesting documentary. Probably not on the surface, maybe if you found some unique perspective or back story, but Szymanski tries neither with the film. There was Kirkland, there was Cody, there was the World Series, there was victory. End of story.

*1/2 – Poor

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