When Little League Players Set the Example for Adults

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jason Gay headlined “When Little Leaguers Set the Example for Adults”:

It’s the Little League hug that stirred the planet.

The moment happened last week, in Waco, Texas, during regional play of the Little League World Series. The opponents were Pearland, Texas, and Tulsa, Okla. Pearland pitcher Kaiden “Bubs” Shelton threw a pitch that veered dangerously inside and thunnnnnkit smacked right off the protective helmet of Tulsa batter Isaiah “Zay” Jarvis, who dropped to the ground and clutched his head.

It was scary. It’s scary whenever a pitch flies near a batter’s head, and it’s outright terrifying when the pitch knocks a hitter to the dirt. Jarvis, who was likely spared a more serious injury when the pitch hit the corner of his helmet’s ear flap, eventually rose to his feet, and trotted down to first base.

Upon reaching first, Zay Jarvis noticed something: Shelton, the Pearland pitcher, was still reeling about the beanball and seeing Jarvis on the ground. He was in tears.

That’s when Jarvis did an extraordinary thing: He calmly walked over from first base to the pitcher’s mound and embraced his opponent, reassuring him that he was OK.

“It wasn’t really a thought,” Jarvis told the Oklahoman. “It was just kind of like a natural reaction.”

Shelton was grateful for the unexpected gesture. “I could hardly breathe, honestly,” the pitcher told KHOU 11 TV. “He came over and hugged me and told me I got this. He was like: ‘Take deep breaths and just think happy thoughts.’”

If you haven’t watched this moment, take a couple of seconds to do so; The hug between Zay and Bubs is everywhere on the Internet. If you’re not at least a little moved by the scene, it’s safe to assume you’re not breathing.

The hug has gone viral as a stirring example of sportsmanship and kindness. It’s the type of moment that reassures there is still humanity out there (even between regional rivals like Texas and Oklahoma). Presumably, there has been good coaching. And good parenting. A child does not suddenly become an empathetic human being midway through a Little League contest.

“I’m super proud that he would think of someone else over himself in that type of moment,” Zay’s father, Austin Jarvis, the baseball coach at Carl Albert State College, told the Ada News.

That’s the nature of life in our digital era—a hug on a mound in Waco can travel around the world by the end of the afternoon. (It helped that the game was televised by ESPN, which covers the LLWS.) By week’s end, Jarvis had been interviewed on “Good Morning America” and been feted by Major Leaguers and other notables.

This has been another long, hot, acrimonious summer. Good news has been hard to find. Our national pastime continues to be Grown Adults Yelling at Each Other. Ad hominem rancor rules the day. It’s embarrassing.

The Little League goosebumps are a welcome counter. As Ralph Fiennes’s concierge character, M. Gustave, intones in the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”

Youth sports aren’t immune from adult incivility. Barely a week seems to pass without a report of some fistfight or ugly incident among grown men and women at a children’s game. Adults with misplaced priorities are toxifying rituals that are supposed to be fun.

Leave it to the Little Leaguers to set the example.

I can get queasy about the expansive TV coverage of the Little League World Series, because it feels like another example of adults unnecessarily raising the stakes. Do they need the pressure? But kids like Zay and Bubs seem to be alright.

Pearland, Texas, is moving on to the big show in Williamsport, Pa. Bubs and his teammates will be playing for a shot at a magical title. In the crowd will be their friend Zay, flown up as Little League’s invited guest.

It’s a well-deserved trip.

“That kid—he was something different,” said Bubs.

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