Will Hawkes: An all too American tale of Cody's little league heroics

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The Independent Online

anti-americanism, so they say, is rife. But what about the flip side? Is there anti-restoftheworldism in the United States? There certainly is. You only have to have a quick look at a few time-honoured American stereotypes. The English? Homosexual. The Scots? Drunk. The Irish? Also drunk, but in a natty, green felt outfit. The Welsh? Isn't that part of England?

That aside, it's not nice to be nasty to our American cousins. They're very sensitive. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to resist, like when, for example, you're watching Little Big Men, a documentary about a little league baseball team that won the World Series in 1982 against all the odds. Well, sort of.

It was clear what lay ahead within seconds of the documentary beginning; a montage of baseball gear-clad, all-American tweens pledging their allegiance. "I love my country and will respect its laws," they squeaked solemnly.

Already the warning signs were there to have a bucket ready should you need to vomit. Worse was to come with the portentous voiceover, delivered over a slow-mo image of a chunky kid "sliding into fourth". "Words work best when used as guideposts in an oath, a pledge," we were told. "They crop the lines that mark the field of fair play." Say what?

Anyway, what happened is this: America was in a bad way (Watergate, Vietnam, oil crisis, Reagan being shot at, etc). The nation badly needed a pick-me-up, and "The Miracle on Ice" – when the US ice hockey team beat the Russians at the 1980 Olympics – wasn't quite cutting it.

Enter a little league team from Kirkland, a blue-collar suburb of Seattle. For 10 years the little league world series had been dominated by a foreign force of robotic automatons, the sort of well-drilled and effective fighting force that is anathema to all right-thinking Americans, apart from when that fighting force is American. That's right, Taiwan was kicking ass. Wait a minute. Taiwan? The poor little island off the coast of China that has been bullied by the Chinese into calling itself Chinese Taipei? "It was your David and Goliath thing, no doubt about it," said Robert Avery, father of one of the Kirkland players. "Who beats Taiwan? Nobody beats Taiwan."

They had won the little league world series nine times out of the previous 11 years. Of the other titles, one was taken by Japan, the other by an American side, but in a year when international teams were banned. "They were the Yankees," sighed one of Kirkland's outfielders.

Fortunately, Kirkland had a secret weapon: Cody Webster, "the man-child". Cody was the pitcher, and he could throw the ball really hard. He and his team-mates really wanted to win and so at the age of 12 they were practising eight hours a day. All this practice swept them to the final at the Howard J Lamade Stadium in Pennsylvania, where it's always held. It turned into a blow-out – Kirkland won 6-0 – and Cody even hit a home run. "It was the biggest upset in the history of little league," said one of his grateful team-mates.

Cody was an instant legend. The crowd chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" and afterwards, a newspaper headline read: "Cody: America's youngest folk hero." Kirkland granted the team a homecoming parade at which 40,000 people turned up and a telegram from Reagan was read out.

Inevitably, it went downhill from there. The attention was too much for a 12-year-old and, even worse, Cody began to take abuse from jealous parents of rival teams. "They called him a fat motherfucker," said team-mate Mike Adams, tearfully. God Bless America, eh?