- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Showboating has trickled down to the Little League World Series, judging by the flamboyant actions of the 12-year-old mini-stars from Harlem.

The Harlem players do not mean to offend. They merely are following the lead of professional athletes, all too many of whom are either desperate for affection or a five-second spot on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Players used to jog solemnly around the bases after hitting a home run, acting as if they were familiar with the event.

Players hit a home run nowadays and sometimes pause to watch the majestic flight of the ball. They stand outside the batter's box in disbelief, obviously too stunned to move at first. They ask, "Do you see what I see? Am I lucky, or what?"

They have a seemingly choreographed routine that goes with the long journey around the infield. They make the sign of the cross, they beat on their chests, they scratch what is an apparent bad case of poison ivy, and sometimes they call their agents by cell phone to check on the bonus clauses in their contracts.

A home run is no longer a small moment in time. It is an exhausting ordeal. You can understand why the players are threatening to strike at the end of the month. They could use the rest.

The self-congratulatory nonsense is increasing with each season. The performing artists in athletic uniforms are inclined to pull out their top hats and tails after the most elementary plays: a run-scoring single early in the game, a dunk that ties the score at 40-40 or a tackle that holds an opponent to a 10-yard gain.

Players have perfected a variety of dances along the way: the twist, the tango, the cha-cha and the Ickey Shuffle.

Deion Sanders was one of the best dancers ever, and one of the most inventive in the place formerly known as Raljon. In his last season, he was able to complete a dance number while allowing the ball to ricochet off his face mask. Imagine the concentration that play required. Try that one with a straight face.

You go to a game today and you are liable to see an opera-like serenade, with two guys singing to the crowd, telling a veritable love story, the story of self-love. Or you are liable to see players being shot out of a cannon, after which they hurl themselves through a ring of burning fire.

If it weren't for the NFL's Fun Police, the post-touchdown scene probably would have dissolved into an old-fashioned variety hour by now. Players would be pulling a rabbit out of their helmets or playing the piano or performing fancy somersaults on a trampoline.

It is funny how it works. If one professional athlete has earned the right to strut on occasion, it is Michael Jordan.

Yet Jordan abstains from the premature displays of joy. He has made a zillion plays anyway. What's one more? He will make another play soon enough. He even may break an opponent's heart at the end of the game. That is when he pumps his fist into the air, when it is over and it is his game. That is perfect.

The Harlem players cannot be expected to know the difference between Jordan's classy professionalism and the nitwits who confuse emotion with contrived demonstrations of delight.

Jordan is almost yesteryear's news to a bunch of Little Leaguers. They were too young to grasp the power of his example in Chicago, and they are too young still. They see the theatrics. They see the clowns. They see the absence of respect and sportsmanship.

Fortunately, Harlem's manager, Morris McWilliams, is a capable teacher. After one of his players waved bye-bye to the ball following a home run, McWilliams provided the player with an earful.

The lesson, incidentally, received a generous amount of air time on ESPN.

Who knows? Maybe the Little League manager's message reached a few of the dolts in the professional ranks. We can hope.

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