Doing it for the kids. That’s how Patrick Cavanagh, ESPN’s coordinating producer for all baseball coverage sums up the live broadcasts of the 60th Little League World Series which aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 this past August in high definition.
In the United States Championship game, Columbus, GA defeated Beaverton, OR, 7-3, while Japan blanked Mexico 3-0 in the International Championship game.
For the World Series Championship, Columbus, GA topped Kawaguchi City, Japan 2-1 for this year’s bragging rights.
If you think covering the Little League World Series would be easier than Major League Baseball, think again.
The regional finals consist of 45 games played in five different locations (St. Petersburg, Bristol, Indianapolis, Waco and San Bernardino—homes of Little League Baseball’s region headquarters) with four separate production crews (one crew did double location duty in St. Pete and Bristol).
Two region tournaments are held in Bristol, Indianapolis and San Bernardino, while St. Pete and Waco each host a single tournament. In each region tournament, preliminary round games determine two finalists who then meet in a winner-take-all championship game.
Now keep in mind that these are not MLB parks—there’s no pre-wired infrastructure, no press box and nowhere to put a lot of cameras.
“With a smaller field, you don’t need as many cameras,” said Cavanagh as he was preparing for the last week of the matches in Williamsport, PA.
Even these World Series are different. In Williamsport, Cavanagh had to cover two stadiums with two full crews, until the last and final game of the Championship. Each stadium had a total of about 10 hard cameras, robotics and super slo-mo cameras out of NEP’s SS18 and SS26.
Once set up, the telecast itself is different...it’s faster.
The pace is different. Here, there are six innings and only 1:10 to play the game. Since the kids play the game for the game’s sake, they aren’t caught up in the same delays as the majors.
“There’s no time for two or three replay angles...there’s very little time,” said Cavanagh. “After a pop-up, you’ve got maybe a minute in MLB, here you have 20 seconds. You get used to it after an inning or two.”
Coverage also differs from professional baseball. “The stories are different. Fans of MLB have a frame of reference for the team, the ballpark and the players. Here we try to get at the players and the teams,” said Cavanagh.
“We tell the story of the kids from scratch, with an 11 or 12 year old that viewers have never heard of before and their hometowns. We take a good amount of time to introduce the kids, families and hometowns...viewers have no clue about a small town in Mexico,” said Cavanagh. In fact, some teams bring material of Main Street or a hometown park for the broadcast.
The play-by-play and color commentary also differ, with a slant more towards the instructional than the critical, focusing on what a player could do to avoid an error. “These are 11 and 12 year old children, the spirit of Little League is learning the game, teamwork and respecting teammates and opponents,” said Cavanagh. “The tone is carried through the coverage.”
As 2006 marks the 60th anniversary of Little League as an organization, Cavanagh and his team have spent a lot of time reliving the history of the league, looking at former players who are now sports stars, politicians and actors, showing a little bit of Little League in everyone, themselves or someone they know.
The key word in Little League is volunteerism. The coaches, ushers and even the concession workers are all volunteers. Little League even gives something to the fans... there is no admission charge for a game at the Little League World Series, one of those events that ABC/ESPN have turned into a single production force.