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Remaining impartial is not always easy

Writer finds it hard to obey Little League Baseball's "no cheering" mandate

There is a sign that all members of the media have to pass on their way to their seats at Volunteer Stadium in Williamsport, Penn. It states: 'Rooting is not allowed in press area."

When I first saw it last Friday, I was amused. I wonder if they have had trouble with that in the past, I thought. I pictured grown men, typing away on laptops suddenly leaping to their feat in applause, hands cupped to their mouths as those around them shook their heads in disapproval.

Come on, we're all professionals here. I hardly think we need to be reminded of one of the most basic fundamentals of sportswriting.

But a funny thing happened on Sunday as Lake Oswego was mired in a 0-0 tie with Massachusetts. I began questioning umpires' calls. Not loudly, just an occasional quiet exclamation or a facial expression.

After I muttered, 'Get the easy out,' during a slow ground ball to Lake Oswego second baseman Austin Andrews, I had to catch myself. What was I doing? I was cheering for these kids. I was 'rooting' for them, and not too subtly.

It happened again on Tuesday as Lake Oswego knocked off Ohio 6-1. I was certain that every Levi Rudolph curveball was hitting the strike zone and that Duncan Campbell was clearly safe on a play at first base despite being 300 feet further away from the action than the umpire was.

This is not the mindset of an unbiased sports reporter. This is the thought process of someone cheering for an outcome in a game. A fan, if you will.

During my four years of covering sports in West Linn and Lake Oswego, I will admit that I have had the tendency to become emotionally invested in games and with various teams. It's what made me love sports in the first place. I watch because I want someone to win. I lose interest quickly if I have no clear favorite in the competition.

With high school teams, for the most part, I can hold my tongue. I can be objective. But, in almost every situation, I am hoping the team I am covering wins. Selfishly, it is easier to talk to players and coaches from a team that has just experienced a dramatic victory as opposed to one that has just suffered a gut-wrenching loss.

In state championship games and other closely contested events I have watched over the years, I will admit that my stomach has been in knots. Because, as a reporter, you get to know who you are watching. You build relationships with coaches through 30-second sound-bites and late-night phone calls while trying to hit a deadline. You get to know the athletes and see their personalities after the games. It becomes more personal than cheering for your favorite professional sports team. I know nothing about the personal lives of members of the 49ers but I still want them to win each Sunday.

But never in my time working for the Review, have I been as nervous and caught up in a game as I was during the bottom of the sixth inning last Sunday. My heart was pounding. I didn't want to stay seated. And, as Harrison Ramey calmly flipped the ball to Andrews at second base for the final out, I shook my head. Why? Why was this team of 12-year-old kids taking so much out of me?

Over the past five days, I have talked to each member of Lake Oswego's Little League team. I have seen them hassle each other playfully and vie for my attention. I have seen them hug their parents and siblings and wave to them bashfully from the field.

I have seen them give words of encouragement to a downtrodden teammate and give credit to others when it would be easy to take the glory for themselves. I have seen them remain composed in front of 13,000 fans and then stay equally composed under bright lights and in front of five microphones and a dozen tape recorders.

And I care. I know that I am blatantly disobeying a very straightforward sign, but I am rooting for Lake Oswego.