National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Boys Crying

It took a tremendous amount of will power, perhaps whispering to themselves that age-old emotion-stilling mantra, “Dead cats and nuns, dead cats and nuns,” to keep the announcers at the Little League championship game from losing it Monday afternoon.

All on the formidable team of top drawer ABC sports broadcasters, including Brent Musburger and Hall of Fame former major league players Orel Hershiser and Joe Morgan in the press box, were challenged to maintain their decorum as seemingly every player and coach on the field broke down into uncontrollable weeping following the Columbus, Georgia, team’s 2-1 championship win over the squad from Kawaguchi, Japan.

In such situations, it is not uncommon for 11 and 12 year old boys competing under the tremendous pressure of TV cameras and thousands of fans at the Little League World Series to cry. But it’s almost always when they lose, or sometimes perhaps when they are in pain from getting hit by a pitch. Bigger boys cry, too, when they lose, although unlike college basketball star Adam Morrison in the NCAA playoffs last spring, most usually wait until the game is over to do it.

But it’s OK. Generally, it’s not supposed to happen among us men, but when it does, most think it’s a good thing. It’s an increasingly permitted way of releasing the emotions that society makes it so hard for men to express. At least, that is, until GQ Magazine declares it passé: “Yesterday: hankies. Today: stiff upper.”

Monday afternoon on the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Little League diamond, however, was different. The tension of the championship game was built even more going in by having the game postponed due to rain from Sunday. With a forecast for more rain Monday night, the teams were suddenly rushed onto the field in the middle of the afternoon, as officials hoped to get the game in It all went very quickly. A six-inning 2-1 game with almost no walks or base runners can race by like a blur. It was over before the 6 o’clock news. Not only did the early start, but the fast finish seemingly caught everyone off guard. Before you knew it, it was all over, all completely over.

The build up to all those boys’ hopes and dreams over months of striving through the summer was suddenly released with the final out. For the ones coming halfway around the world from a relatively obscure part of Japan, it all happened way too fast.

They’d have cried over losing, anyway. But the swiftness of their defeat put them into a combination of shock and mourning, and they wept profusely, falling on the ground and some, on their knees, still weeping as they eventually began to gather dirt from the infield into small ball bags to take back home with them.

The drill for the TV announcers, including those in the press box and on the field, was to then switch the cameras from the agony of defeat to the joy of victory.

The cameras panned over from the Japanese side to the boys and coaches of Columbus, Georgia, still hopping up and down and congratulating each other. Asked to comment on the victory, one of the coaches, the father of the team’s biggest star, said he couldn’t ignore the profound emotions being expressed by the losing team behind them.

His sensitivity in that moment was unexpected and spread through his team spontaneously. One Columbus boy started weeping loudly. “Why are you crying?,” the puzzled announcer asked. “I am happy,” the boy was barely able to utter.

In reality, the powerful emotion of joy became fully mixed with the kind of empathy that young people can so readily feel. In a moment, it seemed like just about everyone on both sides of the field was overcome.

It was a beautiful moment, one that will be more memorable to the players over time, without a doubt, than anything that had occurred during the game. Two teams from two sides of the globe were bonded for that instant in a bitter-sweet, emotionally powerful acknowledgment of their common humanity.

One can only hope that not all of those boys will outgrow what they were capable of that afternoon. They may go on to lose their on-field glory, but they don’t have to lose what was more important, what they’d all just experienced.

My favorite musical lyric is a line from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” It goes, “When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.”

 Maybe some of those boys won’t lose their dream. Maybe their heart-felt outpouring Monday even caused some grown ups to recall their own fleeting glimpse.