Leagues of their own

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"I'm a big believer in fair play," my cab driver is telling me as he snakes the car around the downed railroad crossing bars and ig-nores the flashing lights; there was no train coming, anyway. After he makes this manuever, he tells me how it's just not right, what happened with lying, cheating Danny Almonte and the big kid trying to put one over on the littler kids of Apopka's Little League championship team.

True, I started it. It's the price of being chatty. Actually, I'm not the community-spirit type and had no idea there even was a Little League World Series until the day of the big game. It was a wonderful achievement for the hometown boys of summer and great to see people make more use of their natural gifts by age 12 than many people do by age 40. Childhood is the time to exploit one's talents, before you get sandbagged by adulthood and its attendant crap: bills, romance, banging your head against the coffee table every time you read the paper and see what the idiots of the world are up to. Besides, anyone who does anything in this heat other than bitch deserves a parade, plus a free swimming pool dug in their backyard, complete with wet bar, so good for them.

Playing for keeps

But you have to feel sorry for Almonte and his teammates, who had the ambitions of adults ruin a great time in their lives. Almonte is the Dominican Republic-born pitcher who dominated the Little League playoffs, helping to carry his Bronx team nearly to the top. It was later revealed that his eligibility was faked through a phony birth certificate, which said he was 12 rather than his actual age of 14.

The cab driver seemed to think I was soft on him because I mentioned an ABC News "Nightline" report on baseball in the Dominican Republic where boys see two choices ahead of them: Do what you can to become a ballplayer worthy of being hauled to the States and collecting a fat-cat U.S. paycheck or work the farm and be dirt-poor for life. Faking a kid's age might not seem so bad if it meant getting him out of that.

So the issue might not be as clear-cut a case of egoistic stage-fathering as it appeared from the outset. Who knows? But Danny's dad still screwed up for his kid, and everyone else who feels the repercussions of this. Any time a family agenda is pushed over fair play it leads to problems. For example, you could end up with a favored son who, as president, would have made a great Little League coach.

Speaking of W, let's talk about the impending Congres-sional budget fights that will be exacerbated by the dwindling budget surplus. Clinton recuscitated the Reagan/Bush-era economy and mades it as fertile as, well, as Clinton, meanwhile W is installed for less than a year and already there's talk of having to dip into Social Security. I'm not the most politically astute person in the world, but it makes it difficult to see how the Republicans got to be considered the financially prudent ones, even if I'm wearing my dorkiest glasses.

There would be more surplus to argue over had it not been for that tax cut, which looks like W's attempt to buy friends in a country whose majority he knows in his heart didn't want him. W comes across as the guy who insists on picking up the dinner check for the table and then sidles up later asking to borrow some scratch because he's a little short this week. It must be easy to throw money around when you never had to make any.

Winner takes all

If there is a dent in Social Security after the tax rebate, then it would seem to sort of be borrowing money back after you've given it away, a form of what, in less PC times, was called Indian giving. I only wish it were possible to do that with the presidential contest: "Listen, about that last election, we know we gave it to you, but now we're kind of thinking we might need it back. We thought we could afford it and we decided we couldn't. Mistakes were made."

Life is not fair enough for something like this to happen, but if it did, there would be a perfect job waiting for him. Clearly the Little League could use an extra hand overseeing its operations, and everyone de-serves a job they love. It's doubtful W likes being president -- you don't take that much vacation time when you like your work. Can you imagine how bored he must be around Cheney? He's probably like a kid in church. Being Little League Commissioner he'd be around children, who he might be more in tune with, and with whom he could discuss the game he enjoys.

When you think of it this way, releasing him from office and onto the baseball field seems like the only fair thing to do.

But, like little Danny Almonte, Michael Jackson and McCauley Culkin, there are just some kids who get drafted into doing stuff for their family (political or filial) that isn't really the best thing for anyone.

And if, in 15 years, W is getting plastic surgery to look more like Diana Ross, well, at least we'll still be getting laughs. I wonder if that's what we'll still want out of a president.

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