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ABC special hits home

July 31, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The adults and children who made their national television debut Thursday night watched their performance on ABC-TV's "The American Game" for the first time.

Not everyone was happy.

"We feel kind of betrayed. We invited these people into our homes," said Lisa McAfee, whose husband was shown scolding his son and exchanging tense words with ABC anchor Peter Jennings.

For the most part, though, the coaches and parents of Hagerstown's National Little League said they felt the 90-minute special fairly portrayed them.

"I thought it was fair. They didn't force any action on anyone. They just showed what happened," said Gary Carter, who was an assistant coach for the AMVETS team last summer.

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ABC officials said they chose Hagerstown for the special because it is a typical, medium-sized American town, and Carter said darker aspects of Little League could probably be found anywhere.

"If you show the good, you've got to show the negative part of Little League," he said.

The special follows last summer's National Little League all-star team through the Little League playoffs. The players ended their season in the last round of the district championship playoffs.

The program takes a hard look at Little League baseball in general and in Hagerstown in particular.

Some adults are shown aggressively contesting umpire calls, and children displaying less than exemplary sportsmanship.

But the program also shows a more positive side of Little League.

The show recalls the glory days of Hagerstown baseball, when a team from the city made it all the way to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series tournament in 1968.

"Overall it was OK," said Lenora Barnhart, president of the league. "It showed the good and the bad."

Barnhart, who was not in the program, said Little League tends to produce intense feelings.

"I'm glad it concentrated mostly on the good," she said. "Of course it also showed the bad, but bad things do happen when you're dealing with emotions, and Little League is an emotional game."

In the show, one player of mixed race says Little League gave him a sense of belonging for the first time in his life. In another scene, Carter emotionally tells how his experience as a Little Leaguer helped his father quit drinking.

As Jennings says in the opening: "We're going to meet some parents who you may wish were yours and some you'll be glad are not. And we're going to meet some kids you may wish were yours and some you'll be glad are not."

One of the program's central figures is Steve Cromer, a Hagerstown City Police officer and the manager of the AMVETS team.

Cromer admits that winning is extremely important to him and that the game is important to him.

Cromer also admits to being "a sexist" and said he would encourage his daughter to be a cheerleader or a ballerina rather than a ballplayer.

After watching the program Thursday night, Cromer said he felt it was fair overall, but he took issue with how ABC presented that segment.

"The part where they're talking about being a sexist, I was speaking generally, not specifically about Dany Asaro," he said. "Actually, we were talking about the difference between the sexes at that time - about boys being stronger and more aggressive, and girls being smarter and more mature."

Jim Asaro, whose daughter, Dany, made the all-star team last year but faced opposition from some, said he hopes that some of the "discrepancies" between players and coaches will be worked out as a result of the show's airing.

"You've got to remember, this is kids playing a kids' game," he said. "There are memories for the future, and you want them to be good ones."

In one of the program's tenser exchanges, Chris McAfee is shown lecturing his son, Jeremy, for his perceived laziness during warm-ups.

"Jeremy, listen to me, I'm gonna kick you. I don't care, you didn't even wanna bend down (to catch a grounder). Jeremy, Jeremy, I'm on camera with a microphone, but I'm gonna get you tonight because you're letting me down, brother," he says.

When Jennings asks him about that incident later, McAfee says on camera that he sometimes beats his son.

McAfee said Thursday night that Jennings misconstrued his comments. When he said he beats his son, he meant that he disciplines him, McAfee said.

"Peter Jennings, when he did interview me, he waited for the camera to come on," he said. "He acted a little snobby I don't know if he had the whole thing in mind or if that's just the way he is."

Lisa McAfee said she was disappointed that ABC focused on that segment and ignored hours of footage that shows her husband working with kids, taking his son fishing and volunteering at the league.

"I'm sure if they thought Chris was doing something - especially with Steve being a police officer - something would have been done," she said.

Jeremy, who is now 11, said it was "weird" watching himself on television.

Is his father tough on him?

"Yeah, but most of the time, he doesn't do anything," he said.

Part of the program centers on the 1968 all-star team.

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