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Kids Get Big League Treatment

August 22, 2003|LARRY STEWART

Except for the players, who are 11 and 12 years old, there is nothing little about Little League.

It's a big business involving big money. The television exposure is massive -- and growing.

This is the third year of a six-year, $7-million television contract with ABC and ESPN.

And Disney, which owns those networks, reportedly contributed toward the construction of a $20-million stadium at Williamsport, Pa.

By the time ESPN and ABC conclude their Little League World Series coverage Sunday, there will have been 35 games televised, counting the regional championships on ESPN and ESPN2 leading up to the Series.

On Saturday, ESPN will televise the international championship game at noon and ABC will show the U.S. championship at 4:30 p.m.

On Sunday, ESPN has the consolation game at 10 a.m., ABC the championship game at 3:30 p.m.

This is the 40th anniversary of ABC's first telecast of the Little League World Series championship game. Until 1982, when ESPN got involved, the championship was the only game televised.

The coverage has been growing rapidly in recent years. The 35 telecasts this year are 10 more than there were only two years ago.

Where is it going to end?

Some critics say that training 13 cameras on vulnerable youngsters in pressure situations is wrong.

That point can be argued.

Curt Gowdy Jr., ABC's senior coordinating producer, said kids grow up faster these days and that they are oblivious to the cameras.

ABC and ESPN commentator Harold Reynolds said the kids love being on television.

"And there are grandparents who live across the country, who have never seen their grandson play, and they are thrilled to see him on television," he said.

Good points, but what about zeroing in on a youngster who has just given up a game-winning home run or the one who has committed a crucial error?

Often, such setbacks generate tears.

There may be no crying in baseball, but there is crying in Little League baseball.

"We are not going to hang on a youngster who is emotional," Gowdy said. "We're going to be sensitive and give them their space."

Play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger said, "Tears are a part of growing up."

Said Reynolds, "What viewers don't see is the balance. One minute a youngster is crying after losing a game, the next he is asking who is hosting the ice cream party."

But the Little League World Series is no picnic, except maybe for the eventual winners. There is pressure to win, even though those who attend the event say the kids also have a lot of fun.

Does national television add to the pressure or to the fun? It's a debate that may never be settled. The only thing certain is that television will continue to televise Little League baseball as long as people will watch and sponsors will pay.

Tennis News

USA Network has hired Anna Kournikova, who is out because of an injury, to work on its more than 95 hours of U.S. Open coverage. But instead of being a tennis commentator, she'll do celebrity interviews and the like, which is more up her alley.... John McEnroe, CBS' lead commentator, has signed a multiyear contract to continue with USA.

The popular "Arthur Ashe Kids' Day" show, featuring musical stars and top names in tennis, will be on CBS on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. as a prelude to the Open, which begins Monday. This is the eighth year that the show, which pays tribute to the late Arthur Ashe, is being televised.

McEnroe and his brother Patrick, a CBS colleague, will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.... CBS' late-night U.S. Open highlight shows, following David Letterman, begin Monday.

CBS decided months ago to move the start of its coverage of the USTA Pilot Pen final Saturday at New Haven, Conn., to an hour earlier to make room for golf. Problem is, CBS did not inform tournament officials until this week. To say the officials were angry is an understatement.... For Time Warner and Cox subscribers who get the Tennis Channel, "Center Court With Chris Myers" makes its debut Sunday at 4 p.m. Chris Myers' first guest will be legendary tennis coach Robert Lansdorp, whose students have included Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport and Pete Sampras. The half-hour show will repeat at 9 p.m.

College Football

Former UCLA linebacker Jamir Miller is among the candidates to join Ernie Johnson on an expanded college football studio show on TBS, which televises Pacific 10 and Big 12 games. Other candidates are Keith Jackson, the former Oklahoma and NFL tight end, Bo Jackson, Brian Bosworth and former Fox announcer Ray Bentley.... Billy Ray Smith has been added to Fox Sports Net's college football studio show. He will join new host Mike Goldberg and returning commentator Kellen Winslow.

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