For years I have been railing on how the silly importance placed on All-Stars in Little League Baseball has been responsible for empty baseball fields and fewer players moving on to the higher levels of baseball in the Mining City.
Since the schedule is based on the Little League World Series — something no Butte team has ever qualified for — baseball in Butte is played in winter coats as we hurry up to get the season over with so the alleged chosen ones can take over.
So, you can imagine that I have been dealing with a tremendous sense of guilt and hypocrisy as I assisted a 9-10 All-Star team over the past month.
Here’s why I feel so bad.
Let me introduce you to a 9-year-old Butte boy named Kourt. To me, he’s the face of the boys who were told they were not good enough to play All-Stars.
This boy played for my Little League team the last few years. He’s such a goofball that we named a rule after him. This rule is no jumping into the dugout garbage can. I never thought I’d have to make such a rule, which is now known as the Kourt Rule.
Kourt is as friendly and polite of a boy as I have ever seen. It’s impossible to dislike him, even though he talks about everything other than baseball during the games.
He was also the most improved baseball player on our regular-season 9-10 team this spring. At the beginning of the year, he had a zero percent chance of getting a hit, and his fielding wasn’t much better.
No matter what we did, he wanted to backhand grounders that were right to him, and he’s throws weren’t even close to accurate.
By the end of the year, though, Kourt was putting the ball in play on a regular basis. He also turned into one of our best infielders. I planned to pitch Kourt in one of our last two games of the regular season, but they were rained out and not made up.
I’m kicking myself for not getting him on the mound during our loss in the first round of the single-elimination city tournament.
The tournament was single elimination because, presumably, we had to hurry up and get on with the all-important All-Stars.
While Kourt’s game improved light years, he still wasn’t selected for All-Stars, and his season ended before the summer solstice. I would love to see how good he’d be by now if the season ran through July.
I saw Kourt in Great Falls for the 9-10 All-Star seeding tournament last week. Of course, Kourt, who was there to watch some of his cousins play, went out of his way to say hello, like he always does.
He then told me that he was going to work hard to make it to All-Stars next year. Of course, being the nice boy that he is, Kourt told me he didn’t want to make the All-Stars at the expense of one of the four boys from our team who did make it.
So not only was Kourt the most improved player on our team, his genuine words showed that he is also a tremendous teammate and one heck of a friend.
Outwardly, Kourt was one of the boys who was not offended that the league told him he wasn’t good enough. He appears to be using it as motivation.
But what about the other 23 left-out boys in the 9-10 Northwest Little League? Will they handle the news the same?
Or, will they decide to hang up their winter coats and mitts and stop playing baseball for good?
It’s been well documented that I feel the invention of traveling teams — in any sport — is a sign that society has stooped so low that the Yellowstone Caldera needs to just hurry up and blow already.
The biggest problem I have had with traveling teams is that they sometimes tell kids they aren’t good enough or rich enough to compete before we could possibly know they aren’t good enough.
When it comes to All-Stars, Little League has out-traveled travel ball.
All-Stars, particularly this absurd idea of 9-10 All-Stars, assures that there will be less players playing next year.
In the Northwest Little League, the 13 All-Stars were selected from a three-team league of 37 players. Somehow, only six of the 37 players were 10 years old, so the All-Stars are mostly 9. Some are only 8.
So, as you can imagine, the seeding tournament against teams full of 10-year-old players from bigger leagues was a rough experience for the boys. I figured we’d need a team of sports psychologists to get them to play in the district tournament a week after we got the tar beat out of us in all three games.
By the second day, the kids seemed like they would rather go to the dentist than play another baseball game.
Sadly, that is not an exaggeration.
To the boys’ credit, though, they bounced back and were ready to play with good attitudes for the district tournament over the weekend in Butte.
The thing that I struggle with, though, is thinking about the kids who are left out. The Mile High Little League has twice as many kids who were told they weren’t good enough — and, believe me, many of them are pretty darn good.
The age of 9 or 10 is way too young to weed out players, and, let’s be honest, that’s what this All-Stars nonsense does.
Many of those players won’t turn out to be good players, but we don’t know that for sure. How about we let the boy’s voice crack before we determine that he will never be able to hit a fastball.
It is very, very rare to see the 12-year-old boys who dominate the Little League World Series turn out to be stars in Major League Baseball. That’s because boys are far from their peak before they head to middle school.
Little League Baseball has long been one of the greatest organizations in the world. It has helped in the development of fine young men and women for decades.
Locally, we have a lot of men and women who work tirelessly for the cause.
Little League, though, is sure missing the boat when it comes to All-Stars, especially the 9-10 All-Stars.
In the Mining City, where the window for Little League baseball is shorter than most, our goal shouldn’t be a state championship in the 9-10 division. It shouldn’t even be a state championship in 11-12 All-Stars.
If youth baseball coaches and organizations are doing our job, we will be producing enough ballplayers year after year so our American Legion teams can compete for state titles.
All-Stars, particularly the younger All-Stars, are a direct hindrance to that effort.
So this is the challenge to those who have the power to change things, and that includes all of us who volunteer and those who choose not to volunteer. Damnit, change things.
Stop worrying about the Little League World Series, and stop telling us “that’s the way it was always done.”
That excuse just doesn’t cut it.
Instead, let’s start opening our eyes to the possibility that boys like Kourt just might be good enough after all.
More often than not, we’ll find out that they are.
— Bill Foley, who has never violated the Kourt Rule, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74