Most years, August is the sports fans' Sahara — hot, empty and endless.
The only football of any meaning is played north of the border with three downs and something called a "rouge." The NFL is in its preseason, a monthlong money grab featuring drab play-calling and no-chance no-names. Major League Baseball whittles its contenders down as teams mark time for the big September push. Basketball and hockey are still a month from training camps and their own ponderous preseasons.
But the dearth of worth from the pros opens opportunities for the lesser-known. And sometimes efforts that otherwise might go ignored remind people why they became fans in the first place.
The past few weeks have been one of those times.
Three weeks ago, few knew how good the Goodlettsville Little Leaguers were. The swell of support started when they made it out of the Southeast Regional, beating the hometown favorite Georgia team. From there, they flew pretty much instantaneously to the center of youth baseball's universe.
The minute the team landed in Williamsport, they caught us all up in their whirlwind. It's rare for Tennessee teams to make it to the big stage in Pennsylvania. It had been 25 years since a nine from the Volunteer State played at Lamade Stadium, more than 40 since a Nashville team had been there.
They may have been Goodlettsville arriving at Lamade. But when they stepped up to the plate, they were Greatlettsville. They thrilled us, this team. We talked pitch counts in the office breakroom. We eyed suspiciously the mesomorphic man-children from other states and other countries. And we cheered as they rallied against California, and again against Texas.
Do-it-all Brock Myers hit thrilling home runs and mowed down opponents from the mound. Blake Osborne — all of 5-feet-nothing and 89 pounds — scored a crucial run by bowling over a catcher like a tiny Pete Rose.
In a rematch against the team from Petaluma, Calif. — this one for the U.S. title — Lorenzo Butler hit home run after run: three in total, nine RBIs. Goodlettsville took a 10-run lead to the sixth — an insurmountable margin, it seemed. But California answered, tying it up, a show of heart to match their opponents'.
Such a rebound would crush lesser teams. It would crush greater ones too — how many professional teams have squandered massive leads? How many have collapsed in the face of an improbable comeback?
But when you're young, nothing is impossible. Resilience is a trait that diminishes with age. When you're 12, you have optimism to spare. So Goodlettsville was unfazed. They scored nine runs of their own in the seventh, and they shut down the Californians to win the national title.
They faced Japan Sunday for the Little League World Series title. Forced to employ their entire pitching stuff in the epic 24-16 win the day before from California, Little League's strict pitch count rules did Goodlettsville no favors. Justin Smith — who hadn't pitched since July 25 — had to start against Japan, which was able to send their ace to the mound in response.
Japan won that game and the title 12-2. But there was little disappointment from Tennessee's team.
Myers — who led the tournament in strikeouts and became the first player to hit a home run in all of his World Series games — put it in perspective.
"We're the second-best team in the world," he said. "I'm all right with that."
In sports, being second-best is rarely good enough. Buffalo Bills fans lament years of being second-best. Their collective sense of civic loserdom gave rise to the weltschmerz of Vincent Gallo, who has foisted years of self-absorbed neurosis on the world, all seemingly springing from the failure of a team who managed to be second-best for years and years.
But when you're young, there's no shame in second. Now names like Brock Myers and Lorenzo Butler are well known, and the kids from Nashville's northeast enclave are hometown heroes even to people many times their age.
In 10 years or 20, when the Goodlettsville team has reunions, they'll no doubt have weathered shortcomings in their lives. They'll note disappointments they've lived through, strikes and curveballs they couldn't have seen coming.
But they won't mark the summer of 2012 — when they filled the emptiness of August, and were hoisted to the city's shoulders — as one of them.
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