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Q&A With Bob Levey

Tuesday, August 17, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com
Bob was live this week from Bristol, CT, where the Washington, D.C. all-star Little League Baseball team--for which Bob's son, Allie, is the starting short stop--was one of 12 state champion teams from the east coast playing in the eastern regional tournament.

Taking a break from cheering Allie on, Bob spent the hour discussing Little League. The eastern region of Little League is the largest region in the world, covering 11 states and Washington, D.C. Played in over 94 countries, Little League Baseball is the largest youth sports organization in the world.

Here is a transcript of today's session:



Bob Levey: Good afternoon, multitudes. You'll forgive me if I type a little more slowly than usual today. I am suffering from LITTLE LEAGUE ECSTACY!
The D.C. all-stars won their opening round playoff game yesterday by the score of 4-0, over New York. At 5 p.m. today, our guys meet the New Jersey state champs from Toms River. That team is the defending world champion. To say the least, it'll be a daunting task for our hardy crew. But, hey, no one expected D.C. to get as far as they have--to within two victories of the Little League World Series.
D.C. played errorless ball yesterday in the biggest game of their lives. Tom Vladeck, the star pitcher, threw his third shutout of the tournament. And certain parents are lucky to be on the Web today, because if they had to talk, they couldn't. Levey, usually Mr. Golden Throat, now sounds like a combination of Wolfman Jack and an alley cat.
Anyway, root, root, root for the home team. What a tremendous performance by our kids. And it ain't over yet....


Dupont Circle: Bob, Love the chat, but are you one of those crazy parents that pace back and forth annoying all those who are standing still watching the game??

Bob Levey: Guilty as charged. I'm trying to save my best stuff for later in the week, because if our kids win today, I'll be writing a big piece for the Post's sports section about being a nervous Little League Dad. But I'll tease you with this: Some unsuspecting soul offered me a seat before yesterday's game. One of the other D.C. parents had to inform her that Levey doesn't sit when D.C. plays. He paces, incessantly.


Bristol, CT: How many pairs of shoes have you worn out pacing during the game, and how many manicures have you had for your finger nails?

Bob Levey: I brought only one pair of shoes, and so far, so good. As for manicures, it'd be hard to perform one on a guy who ain't got any nails left.


Alexandria: Hi Bob.

This has nothing to do with little league but it's my birthday and you're my favorite columnist. Couldja say hi to me for my b-day? :--

Bob Levey: You know I could.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALEXANDRIA.
It'll be even happier if D.C. wins today.
I've got it bad.
Warned you.


Washington: Are little league coaches in demand? I recently became a father and eagerly anticipate my son's little league years. Where can i get more information on becoming one? Plus, does the District have many teams?

Bob Levey: I've conferred with all sorts of Little League folk during my week up here in Bristol, and I can tell you that volunteers of all sorts are constantly in demand. That includes coaches. However, one area of concern among supervisors of the Eastern Region is that lots of coaches just jump right in without getting (or seeking) any training. That cheats the kids, of course. So if you decide to join the coaching ranks, you ought to check in with Bristol headquarters to see if they can help teach you how to teach. The phone is 860-585-7430. The e-mail address is eastregion@littleleague.org


Westport, CT: Hey, Bob. Glad you're in-state. As you've come to realize, baseball's big up here. Is it popular in Washington?

Bob Levey: It could be much more popular, and that's never been clearer to me than since I arrived. To get here, our team had to be the best of 7 D.C. Little Leagues. The New York champs had to be the best of more than 400 teams (!). Same with Pennsylvania. It isn't that baseball is unpopular in D.C. It's that there are relatively few kids, relatively few involved parents and coaches and relatively few places to play. I realize you can overdo this, but the New Jersey and Rhode Island champs have indoor practice facilities. They throw, pitch and hit all year.


Washington, DC: Bob, When are you coming back to Washington?

Bob Levey: Ah, such a pleasant softball......
I will be back once the D.C. kids lose a game.
They may not. Pray. Hard.
If D.C. wins here in Bristol, I'll go directly from Bristol to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., which begins this weekend.
Typical Levey: I tempted the evil eye last night by asking a woman at the front desk of my hotel whether she had a road map of Pennsylvania. If the kids on our team knew that, they'd kill me. Luckily, they're off shagging flies (and fleas) right now.


Bristol, CT: So Bob, does this little summer side trip to Connecticut count against your vacation time?

Bob Levey: It sure does. The bean counters don't care if I spend these weeks in the south of France or the south of Bristol. The vacation clock is ticking. But how could a tubby papa spend his August in a better way? Another D.C. Dad said to me last night, "You know, if this had been a normal summer, I'd be sitting on some beach somewhere, reading Tom Clancy." Doesn't that sound grim? I'd rather be banging my wedding ring on an aluminum railing in the grandstand here in Bristol and chanting, "Let's Go D.C.!"


Arlington, VA: Hey Bob. How is Williamsport treating you? If you get a chance, drive over the 4th Street Bridge and visit my alma mater, Lycoming College. A great liberal arts college nestled right in the middle of Williamsport--lots of green grass and open spaces--of all the places in Williamsport, I am sure you can find peace and tranquilty there!!!

Bob Levey: You're tempting the evil eye, too.
We're not in Williamsport yet.
Two victories to go.
We're still in Bristol, Conn., hoping to win the Eastern Regional championship.
Bristol, by the way, is treating us excellently. Lots of nice people here, lots of good restaurants.


Omaha Nebraska: Bob,
My son -14-, has been playing on Little League, and 'Select Teams' for 7 years now and shows some talent for the game. He loves the game and wants to continue playing at least into High School.

We are thinking of moving East probably within about 100 miles of the DC Metropolitan Area.

Where can we reference more information about Pre-High School Teams in the Area, their records, Try Outs, and neighborhoods they draw their players from?

Thanks.

Bruce Alexander

Bob Levey: Don Soucy, the king of Bristol Little League, says you can get everything you need from www.littleleague.org


Fairfax, Virginia: Once your son's team was selected, how often did they practice in preparation for the East Regionals and what did they concentrate most on in practice, i.e., hitting vs. fielding, situationals or a well-rounded training approach?

Bob Levey: I'm so glad you asked this, because our magic carpet ride here in Bristol has been a ringing endorsement of how the right kind of practice yields the right results.
The 14 kids on the D.C. team have been practicing three hours a day, seven days a week for the last two months. They have concentrated on defensive positioning and strategy so they don't beat themselves through silly fielding errors. So far here in Bristol, our kids have made only three errors in six games--by far the best fielding record of any team here.
Here's an example of how practice can make perfect. In yesterday's game against New York, they had a runner on third with one out. The batter hit a bullet line drive at my son, Allie, the shortstop. He snagged it with one hand and without even pausing to look, threw to the third base bag. Sure enough, the third baseman, Cameron Dantley, was just arriving. He tagged the bag for a double play. Textbook stuff!
Yes, the kids also swung the bat every day in practice, and they practiced situational baserunning regularly. But the key is to be fundamentally sound, and our coach, Mike Domanski, has been a real bear about that--a real bear who's 12 innings from the World Series.


Bristol, CT: Bob, just so you don't upset some little grandmother in Bristol, I'll need to correct the telephone number you gave a short time ago. If one needs to call the Eastern Regional Center, the number is 860-585-4730. Thanks.

Bob Levey: As we love to say in Washington, I accept the amendment


Washington, DC: According to Yahoo Driving Directions, Williamsport is about 280 miles -386 minutes- from Bristol. Here are the driving directions! GO DC!!



Directions miles
1. Start out going East on SR-72 towards WEST ST. 0.4
2. Stay straight to go onto MEMORIAL BLVD. 1.1
3. Turn RIGHT onto MIDDLE ST. 1.9
4. MIDDLE ST becomes WEST ST. 2.3
5. Take the I-84 WEST ramp towards WATERBURY. 0.2
6. Merge onto I-84 W. 111.9
7. Turn SLIGHT LEFT at the intersection of REST AREA ACC to stay on I-84 W. 53.2
8. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT at the intersection of I-380 EAST RAMP to stay on I-84 W. 4.0
9. Take the I-81 SOUTH exit on left towards WILKES-BARRE. 0.6
10. Merge onto I-81 S. 35.7
11. Take the I-80 WEST exit towards BLOOMSBURG. 0.6
12. Merge onto I-80 W. 48.9
13. Take the US-15 NORTH exit 0.3
14. Merge onto US-15 N. 16.7
15. Stay straight to go onto MARKET ST. 0.0

Bob Levey: Hey, that evil eye is going to start getting VERY mad in about a second.
Thanks for the directions.
I won't look at them again until I breathe again--which should be about three seconds after the last out tonight.


Alexandria, VA: Bob, How's Allie holding up? Is he nervous about the game tonight?

Bob Levey: I saw him for about 15 seconds this morning. The following is an accurate transcript of the conversation:
Fat Father: "You nervous?"
Slim Trim Son: "Very."
It's only the biggest baseball game this child (and every child on each team) has ever played in. I was just chatting with the head umpire here, Frank Policano. I told him that if someone had said to me when I was 12 that I had to go play high-level ball in front of hundreds of people, with the huge risk of making a crushing mistake, I would never have been able to handle it. Allie will handle it.


Providence, RI: Bob,

Typically, how many years have these kids been playing baseball? Like the pitcher on your son's team, for example. He sounds great!

Bob Levey: The boys have all been playing at one level or another since they were about 7. My son, for example, has been playing organized ball since he was 6. He was the starting shortstop for the Maryland State Babe Ruth League champs at age 7. The bug bites early, and the bites last.
Tom Vladeck, our star pitcher, is an amazing success story. Last year, he was on the D.C. team here and was, by his own admission, gangly and hopeless. This year, he has struck out 40 batters in 18 innings and is just blowing away everyone he faces. He did it through sheer hard work.


Arlington, VA: Hey Bob,

So, when DC makes it to the championships -fingers crossed, of course!- will you be doing a chat from Williamsport? Also, what was the final score from Tom's River-State College game? Like the other Arlington, VA person, I'm a central PA native and am a little down that SC will not go on to play DC.

Bob Levey: A chat from Williamsport? Count on it. Maybe two.
The final score of Toms River vs. State College, Pa., was Toms River 7, State College zip. The New Jersey champs really looked tough yesterday. They know how to win. I haven't feared a single team here before today, but I gotta tell you, I fear them.


McLean, VA: Bob,
Is the pressure of being this CLOSE to the World Series-and everything that goes with it -ESPN coverage, etc.--affecting the players at all? I know that if I'm in their shoes, I'm a nervous wreck.

Bob Levey: I'll know more when I see the kids in a few minutes. I'd guess the answer is yes. I'd also guess that they'll find a way to push past it.
Maybe superstition will do it. For example, in the first five games here, our kids weren't really hitting very well. So one of them decided that what they needed was an on-field batting practice, with fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, anyone fielding their hits. We did it, and it was a total hoot. Nothing like laughing at your father's error to make a kid loose (yes, alas, I'm talking about R. Levey, and his totally disrespectful son, A. Levey). Anyway, our guys went out and hit very well in yesterday's victory. So today at 2, we do the family-in-the-field thing again.


Chevy Chase, MD: Hi Bob, Tell us about the Little League World Series. How long is it? How many games are played? Will there be special opening ceremonies, etc?

Bob Levey: Eight teams will be there--four from the U.S., four from elsewhere in the world. There are three preliminary games within each bracket. Then the top two teams meet in a single-game playoff. Then those winners meet for the whole shebang on Saturday, 8/28.
That means five games if a team goes to the final, three if not.
Dunno about opening ceremonies. I'd be too nervous to attend them, anyway


Herndon, VA: Bob, an earlier questioner from CT asked if little league baseball was big in DC and you answered you were mystified why it wasn't bigger. Shouldn't you consider that baseball would be bigger here if we were not wrongly deprived of a Major League Baseball franchise?

Bob Levey: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Excellent point. Thanks


Shreveport, LA:
With these games being so important and a chance at the World Series at stake...I know those kids are nervous....are they still having a great time and enjoying every second of it? -as they should-? :-

Bob Levey: You've got to remember that parents spend very little time with their children here. The kids eat and sleep in a set of dorms, and parents are not allowed in. Nor are the children zallowed out. So I'm only guessing, but I'd say they are loving every second of it. Even Mr. A. Levey, who loves to keep a poker face around a certain paternal ancestor, has had to admit that this is a kick.


Arlington, VA: Bob, please understand that I'm happy for you and your family that you are getting so much joy from this experience in the Little League regional tournament.

On the whole, do you believe Little League with this hierarchical "all-star" system is a more positive experience for the general 11-12 year old population than the situation in previous years when neighborhood kids would get together in the sandlot and play after school? Do you think the stadia, uniforms, and other adult-like trappings of Little League represent an efficient use of resources? Based on your experience, please explain to me why this is worthwhile for the general 11-12 year old population.

Thank you for your thoughts. Continued wishes on a fine vacation in Connecticut.

Bob Levey: I understand your concern, and I share it. But this D.C. all-star team of 14 kids doesn't in any way prevent other kids from playing ball in the park. These are exceptional kids who have devoted themselves to baseball, sometimes when it wasn't a whole lot of fun in 99-degree weather, for weeks on end. And they have learned the game beautifully, because they have been coached beautifully. I can't see anything wrong with that. The average child will still learn as much about baseball (or any other sport) as that child wants, given the child's skill and commitment level.


Washington DC: How was the team selected? By stats? by committee? by Mike?

Bob Levey: By the president of the Capitol City Little League, a wonderful volunteer named Ann Kane.


Hagerstown, Maryland: What is the real reason that your typing is slower than normal today?

Bob Levey: Must be all that pasta I'm wolfing down at the Farmington Inn, which has become my home away from home. Ziti and mozzarella for $8.95, with free garlic bread. Try THAT on K Street sometime. Plus, the waitress calls me "Hon."


Maryland: How long does the average LL game last? How good-bad is the umpiring?

Bob Levey: The average game lasts about an hour and 20 minutes for six innings. The umpiring has been a bit bumpy at times. I've see about 30 games in the last week, and on three occasions, I saw umpires make a close call at a base before either the runner or the ball arrived. But the ball-and-strike umping has been very strong.


Arlington : Maybe another reason why baseball is not big in DC is that there are not a whole lot of baseball facilities and that other sports like soccer and basketball are quite popular. Kids can't do it all, and many are attracted to these other alternatives which are readily available here where they may not be as available in areas where baseball is traditionally big or where there are not a whole lot of people into other sports. The large international community here, for example, helps to account for the booming amount of soccer teams-clubs in this area.

Bob Levey: I'm with you on facilities. You'll find a softball field in just about any public park in or around D.C. You will almost never find a Little League-sized baseball field. However, in a town like Toms River, N.J., you'll find bushels.


Washington, DC: Bob, I remember Little League from about 20 years ago as a hurtful experience. With fathers serving as coaches, the process governing who would play was utterly political. On my team, I recall the coach's sons getting twenty minutes of batting practice each, whereas other players would get a couple of minutes. Furthermore, the importance placed on Little League via the manicured fields, the uniforms, and the standings made kids feel more hurt than would be the case otherwise, as if something was wrong with them.

Have you seen evidence of such politics in the DC area, or at this tournament? Has Little League instituted steps to guard against these abuses, especially given the competition they face from other sports -especially soccer-?

Bob Levey: The best-run programs let father-coaches know that favoring your own kid is terrible for that kid, other kids and the league as a whole. Sure, it sitll happens, but I haven't seen nearly the level of father-favors-son as I have in soccer or basketball.


DC: Are any of the Tom's River players the same as last year's champions?

Bob Levey: Two of them, Casey Gaynor and Eric Campesi. Both exceptionally strong players. Both the subjects of a Bob Levey bad dream last night.


Washington, DC: bOB, why does your son play on the d.c. team. don't you live in maryland?

Bob Levey: He goes to school in D.C., which makes him eligible.


DC: What insight do you have to offer regarding the world of Little League? Who are D.C.'s star pitchers, batters, fielders, etc?

Bob Levey: Tom Vladeck is not only our star pitcher, he's clearly the best pitcher at this tournament, and one of the best in the country. Our top hitters (Mike Sheridan, Nick Wiseman,b Danny Diaz, Cameron Dantley, Ben Privot and Vladeck) have produced runs all summer. I know you'll want to break out the grain-of-salt machine for this one, but my son, Allie, is the best fielder I've seen here (don't take it just from me--take it from a reporter from a New Jersey paper, who said this to me last night before he knew Allie was my son). Our bench players have been exceptional. Tom McCarthy made two great defensive plays and got a hit last night. Ryan Kupperman had to step in as the starting catcher when Wiseman got hurt. With all the pressure, he played a HUGE game.


gaithersburg, md: When you get to Williamsport stop at Wegmans -the ultimate in Grocery stores- and have a sub for me. Or chinese, or pizza, or olives from the olive bar, or,... Puts everything in the DC area to shame. I go up a few times a year to shop -and everytime I go home to visit my family!!!-
Just wanted to let you know it was there so you'd know when you got there. It's right on Rt. 15.

Bob Levey: I just hope that evil eye doesn't like olives.....


Montvale,NJ: Since we are all cheering for
your son - could we please have a pic online of him in uniform? - win or loose!

Bob Levey: I spent two hours of my young life trying to arrange exactly that this morning, because today's Bristol Press carries a super color photo of Allie making a play at second base. Woulda been perfect-o for this show. Alas, the photo guy at the Press hadn't come to work in time for technological magic to happen.
Promise: if our guys get to Williamsport, I'll arrange a photo of the whole team!


Bristol, CT: Bob, other than DC, who's your # 2 odds on favorite to make the trip to Williamsport?

Bob Levey: D.C. is my HOPE for Williamsport. But my PICK for Williamsport is New Jersey. They are so-o-o-o-o talented. Yet our guys can beat them if they play tough and hit the ball.
My second pick would be Massachusetts. Nice team, good balance, good hitting.


:) New York, NY: I heard that The Eastern Region always has a great program book for the tournament. I am unable to be there this year, is there a way I can get one?

Bob Levey: Since I have read this year's program book a mere 37 times, I can vouch for its quality. Stacy Jackson here at Bristol HQ can ship you one, I'm sure.


Fairfax, VA: Does Little League take any steps so that poor or inner-city children can play? What about children who are recent immigrants, or who might not know much, if anything about baseball?

Bob Levey: Little League actively tries to build programs in inner cities, but that's a tall order, because of poor facilities and a shortage of volunteers. Yet there are occasional ringing successes. For instance, the New York State champs hee in Bristol were a team of Hispanic kids from the South Bronx. Great kids and good players--but the key was excellent adult leadership. Their three coaches were scrapping and clawing the whole game, and it was obvious they had really devoted a ton of time to teaching their kids the game.


Alexandria, VA: Bob, I know this is Little League day and not the Friday free for all, but I just had to tell you this one. I was following a car with specialized Virginia tags, like those depicting areas of the state. This tag read:
OH2HUNT
Irony of it was, it was a
Wildlife Conservationist tag.
Thanks for allowing me to interrupt another day of glory for you and your team. GO DC!

Bob Levey: Must be a Little League Dad who's talking about hunting foul balls that have gone in the woods


Washington, DC: Are there any girls in the playoff teams? I play Women's Baseball and I'm just wondering if we can look forward to gaining some future talent for our league here in Washington.

Bob Levey: The catcher and shortstop for Massachusetts, Vicky Waterman, is a very good player, and the fact that she starts for a final four team speaks for itself.


Washington, DC: I'm looking to get involved coaching local girls softball---I used to coach several years ago back in MASS but haven't found an opportunity here to get involved. Any suggestions as to whom I should contact about girls youth softball leagues in DC? Thanks!!

Bob Levey: Same people and web sites and phone I listed earlier.


washington, dc: bob, does allie play any other sports? which sports do you think are more popular than baseball in washington? are there any good "little league" programs for other sports in the area?

Bob Levey: You WOULD have to raise this, wouldn't you?
Allie also plays soccer, for a state champion team.
Practice begins Aug. 28--the very day that Williamsport (if we get there) ends.
No rest for the weary.
Yes, I mean weary Dads.
Kids never get weary, do they?


Bob Levey: Got to run and get ready for batting practice, gang. Hope, hope, hope for the home team. I'll be back with you on Friday for our weekly anything-goes chat, called "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." It appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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