Chicago's Little League Team Worth Watching
8/20/2014 3:00:00 PM - John Kass
America tells stories to itself in images, funny ones, sad ones, selfies we send out over our phones with snarky comments.
But lately, the ones that get the most traction are the angry ones. They seize us like hands around our throats.
And that's what the images from Ferguson, Mo., feel like to me, hands to the throat.
Police killed an unarmed teenager, the town erupted in anger.
Was he an innocent soon-to-be college freshman killed without reason? Or is he that hulking giant in the photo released late last week by police, of a suspect in a convenience store strong-arm robbery, a massive hand around the neck of the store clerk?
The only thing we know for sure is what happened after he was shot. There were riots, looting, politics, heavy-handed reactions from police and enough racial pandering to fill the 24-hour cable news cycle.
We've seen this movie before. And many followed their political prompts like sheep stumbling off a truck and into the pens. They lined up in the usual camps.
It didn't matter that the facts weren't in. There were feelings and agendas to address.
That's the problem with intense images and a lack of facts. They're open to interpretation and what we want to see happen.
But there's another image I saw last week. This one I like, and it doesn't come from Missouri.
It probably won't seize you by the throat. It has nothing to do with anger. It doesn't require interpretation or political translation or attitude. It is what it is.
But it brought me a smile when I needed it.
It's Little League baseball, and it's taking place this week in Williamsport, Pa., at the Little League World Series.
My team this year is the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, a team from the Far South Side of Chicago, a part of town often ignored by the media, except for police reporters.
One grandfather who made the trip is Albert Nelson, 81, who was there to see his grandson hit three massive home runs and a triple last week.
Nelson was in the stands when his grandson Pierce Jones, 13, turned on a high pitch and send it on a line out of the ballpark. A TV reporter mentioned that he'd missed several doctor appointments to make it to the tournament.
I'd been watching the game on my office TV. There was nothing showy about him, or sopping with emotion, there was no drama or buzz.
Nelson is old school.
He kept things inside, watching the boy swing the bat, watching him round third base, trotting home.
So with the team getting ready for the next round of tournament play this week, I reached out to him. I talked to his daughter, a Chicago police sergeant in the gang crimes unit. And she gave me her dad's cellphone number.
"It feels great," he said over the phone from Williamsport.
"I'm his No. 1 fan. I make most of the games," said Nelson, who lives in southwest suburban Alsip, about 15 minutes from Jackie Robinson Park.
His daughter insisted he make it to the tournament in Williamsport.
"I guess she had to push me to go," he said. "She was trying to push me to go ahead to be there for him because I've been there for him so much and she couldn't make it."
Are you glad she pushed you?
"Oh yes, I'm glad they pushed me now. I'm glad."
His grandson Pierce, who became the face of Jackie Robinson West, is a talented three-sport athlete. There's just something about the physically advanced athlete at that age. They're dominant. And some of the other boys their age haven't quite caught up yet.
Eventually, if they work hard and play hard, they'll catch up, but not this week.
"Well he was playing basketball and football, and he didn't want to get hurt playing football," Nelson said. "And he was good in basketball, but he loved baseball. So that's why he stuck with baseball. He just loves it."
Any worries about Sunday's game?
"Ahhhh, Sunday's no problem. The boys got all the confidence in the world. They've come a long with so much pressure on all of them, and I'm really proud of them. Even if they don't go all the way I'm proud."
Who wouldn't be?
There's nothing quite like being at a big youth sports tournament with your family. The kids run through the hotel corridors, and adults chatter nervously over coffee or in the hotel bar about the big games to come.
And there's nothing as big in youth sports in America as the Little League World Series.
The Jackie Robinson West team doesn't bring any baggage, except the luggage and the bat and equipment bags the kids lug across the field.
So for now, I prefer to watch them play, rather than fret over what's coming out of Ferguson, Mo., which for now at least is anger and politics without facts.
It is a tired rerun: The angry activists know what to say, and they'll say it again. The politicians equivocate as others have before, and the same for those who think police can do no wrong, and those who think police can do no right.
Others, both black and white, are so blinded by race that they can hardly see anything else.
But Little League baseball isn't scripted. And neither is Albert Nelson's joy at being able to watch his grandson play another game.