Time and again the political ads that bombarded us from the TV during the Little League World Series this week centered on education.
But, really, the most compelling lessons of the week were supplied by the 11-, 12- and 13-year olds in the sky-blue uniforms out on the field in South Williamsport, Pa.
It was there, 4,800 miles from the local schools they would have otherwise been attending and amid the glare of the national spotlight they are not likely to forget, that the team from Waipio gave us all instruction in perseverance and strength of spirit. Not just once, either, but on a regular basis.
So when their nearly monthlong mainland stay came to an end in a 4-1 loss to Japan in the championship game yesterday, it was hard to look at it as a defeat.
It was a lost opportunity and not the finish they wanted but hardly a defeat of the indomitable spirit that had carried Waipio to 18 victories in its last 20 games and a place in the state’s heart.
It was a team of pluck that could very easily have been home watching this one from its living rooms soon after the 6-2 loss to Georgia in the opener of the double-elimination series.
The players who fought all week to overcome deficits and beat the odds didn’t quite have enough left in them after winning five elimination games.
The parents of the Waipio team enjoyed the wild ride their boys took them on and have no feelings of disappointment.
LITTLE LEAGUE LESSONS
Columnist Ferd Lewis recognizes the Waipio players not just for how well they played but for how they carried themselves throughout.
A game-by-game look at how Waipio climbed back from the verge of elimination to win the U.S. championship and reach the world title game.
It was a group full of praise-worthy grit and heart-warming resilience that could have been bumped in any of its three subsequent games but was undeterred by four-run deficits, undaunted by a gauntlet of elimination games and unbowed when its hitting struggled.
Waipio wasn’t the best hitting or pitching team there. In fact, it ranked eighth in batting average and sixth in earned-run average. And it hardly had the best of draws, either, playing five consecutive days.
Not that any of it mattered much to them. As the smiles suggested, hey, it was baseball and they were playing it at the highest level, rising to the occasion, and having high-fivin’ fun doing it.
As was vividly illustrated in a 6-4 victory over Ohio accomplished with one hit, there are several ways to win a baseball game, and overwhelming heart can be made to be one of them when spirit and opportunity fuse.
Then, yesterday, there was determined Cody Maltezo, who hadn’t pitched since the district playoffs a month ago, stepping atop the mound in front of 29,812 and a national TV audience and responding with 5 2/3 innings of four-hit ball.
When he left the mound having reached the 85-pitch limit, down 2-1, coach Brian Yoshii told him what ti-leaf-waving fans there and hopeful followers here were thinking: "Fantastic!"
In that, Maltezo was but the latest symbol of this remarkable team.
It can’t be easy to be a Little League team from Hawaii these days. Not after Ewa Beach (2005) and Waipio (2008) won the LLWS. Opponents saved good pitching for them and fans expected the most of them. With different players and coaches, there should be no weighty expectations attached. But there are.
You have to go back to that opening game of the LLWS, the 6-2 loss to Georgia, for one of the first — and most telling — reads on this team.
Afterward Yoshii, noted, "I felt they were battling all the way … so I think they never gave up. They had heart all the way to the very end, so that’s all I can ask of them."
In the end, it was all anyone could ask. And, to the last flyball, they delivered.