This year's Ripken World Series has been pretty standard, from my perspective at least, meaning my week has been equal parts grueling and exciting. Covering four or five games a day is certainly taxing on the brain and spirit, but watching the top 12-year-old teams in the country and world battle it out makes it worthwhile. It's the 20-0 blowouts that tend to make those souls in the press booth a bit restless. Thankfully, the majority of the contests I've covered have been evenly contested, with the pinnacle being Monday night's Mexico and Dominican Republic showdown, which featured some of the best pitching I've seen at any tournament.
Having spent so much time at the Ripken Academy this week, here's some of the thoughts that have been whirring around in my head, when it's not filled up with statistics.
Japan's warmup routine is a site to behold: I was in the press box at Cal Sr.'s Yard on Tuesday afternoon, typing up my recap of the game that had just wrapped up when the Japanese team took the field to warm up for its impending matchup with the Dominican Republic, which it later won 6-1, and proceeded to put on one of the most entertaining productions I've seen on a baseball field. I have witnessed variants of what the Japanese players and coaches were doing, where someone hits fungo bat grounders to groups of infielders, who in turn attempt different putouts and double plays, all while cycling in and out at the different positions, but the speed and precision with which the Japanese team pulled it off was stunning. It might embarrass a bunch of pre-teen boys if I compared them to dancers, but the Japan team's warmup routine looked like something that you'd see at Ice Capades, or a large-scale ballet. It looked like someone would get hurt or maimed if they didn't get out of the way in time, but you weren't concerned that would happen because it was so fluid.
Touching gloves: Something that I noticed a few teams doing, which I haven't seen in previous years and don't particularly like, is gathering on the pitcher's mound following every putout to touch gloves together prior to starting in on the next batter. This is going to sounds really crabby, and I'll probably get some strongly-worded e-mails about it, but things like that slow down the game, and I'd rather not see them, especially since there seem to be so many things conspiring to make baseball games longer (stepping out of the box after every pitch, adjusting Velcro tabs, nibbling at the edges of the strike zone when you should be tempting hitters to swing the bat). Throwing the ball around the horn after a strikeout with nobody on base, perfectly acceptable, but having an infield conference after a groundout to first, not so much.
Lack of size behind the plate: Something sports editor Randy McRoberts pointed out earlier in the week was that nearly every catcher he had seen was a bit undersized, and I have to agree with him, as the only backstop I've seen so far that wasn't smaller than average was Korea's. It's just my opinion, but when you're dealing with 12-year-old players, the positions that benefit most from physical size, and which require the best arms, are pitcher and catcher. My opinion aside, the size of the catchers at this year's tournament hasn't affected play, as I haven't seen any more steals than in previous years.
Pitches: I've ranted about this plenty over the years, but apparently nobody is listening, because every year I see pitchers throwing breaking pitches that they can't get over for strikes. It would tickle me to death if I saw a young hurler at the Ripken series toss a complete game employing nothing but fastball variants (sinkers, cutters, etc.) and changeups.
I'm going to end it there, because I'm writing this from the press box, and the game I'm supposed to cover is about to start. One last thing though. Maybe it's because I like their warmup routine, or it could be that they wear their stirrup socks the proper way (pants come down to mid-calf, stirrups cover all but a little bit of the sanitary sock at the bottom, which is how I wore them growing up), but I'm pulling for the Japanese boys to win this whole thing.