If you’re a Yankees fan, Aaron Boone is a hero. If you love the Red Sox, he’s a villain. And if you follow baseball, Boone is one of the game’s all-time unlikely heroes. In the 2003 American League Championship Series, he hit a walk-off home run at Yankee Stadium to defeat Boston and send New York to the World Series. It was every kid’s big-league dream come true.
Today, Boone is an analyst for ESPN and he’s in the middle of covering the Little League World Series. As we get closer to the LLWS final on Sunday, Boone spoke with Sports Illustrated Kids about the tournament, working in the booth, and his time as a player.
For kids or adults who haven’t been paying attention to this year's Little League World Series, what have been the biggest storylines for you in this year’s tournament?
One is that perennial powers that we think of, like California and Texas in the USA, that are always real good they both been eliminated. They both lost their first game, which is unique. On the international side, Japan, the defending champs and a team that’s always really good, they got knocked out early, too. So I think the fact that the parity and the fact that it feels like there's about six, eight, 10 teams this year that could really win this thing… It has that the feeling that there's a lot of teams that could actually win it.
While watching everyone in the Little League World Series, what has impressed you the most?
This is my second Little League World Series [as a broadcaster], but I've been doing West Regional before that for about five years. I guess it just continues to cement in my head how good these 11, 12,13-year-old kids are at baseball. I mean, that blows me away. And, again, this year just cements that. To see a 13-year-old kid from Panama the other day throwing 81 miles an hour and just looking like this very polished player, to see some of the plays that these kids are able to turn in defensively… It cemented how good these kids are at such a young age.
Do you think some of them could make the majors?
I think that's one thing that is very hard to project at this age. At 12, 13 years old, some kids are a lot more physically developed than other kids. So, it's hard to project. But absolutely, I think we will look back in 10-12 years from now whatever we'll probably say, there is a big leaguer or two or more that played in the 2016 Little League World Series.
What kinds of differences or challenges are there in broadcasting a Little League game as opposed to a major league game?
I think with the Little League game and being that there kids, you certainly try to be less critical of mistakes. You try and turn mistakes more into teaching moments. And I think as a broadcaster you allow yourself to be a little more of a fan. You kink of find yourself rooting for the kids. I think it's the way it should be, whereas in a major league game you’re just kind of analyzing what's happening and you try to be as honest and forthright as you can about what's going on the field. And you don't worry so much about giving praise necessarily to a player or criticizing a player or a manager or a move that happened within the game.
You mentioned teaching moments, have you helped any of these kids become better players?
(laughs) Probably not, although Tim Kurkjian and I the other day, we got to shoot a little piece for Baseball Tonight where we went with the Northwest Little League team from Bend, Oregon, and we got to take infield with them. I got to show a skill from each of these infield positions that hopefully will resonate with one of the kids or more and that helps them in their baseball lives.
What was your youth baseball experience growing up?
It was awesome! My 11-year-old year, I played and was still living in South Jersey outside of Philly, and when I was 12 we moved to Southern California. Those are some of the best memories of my baseball life. I love my major league career and playing in college, but a lot of your fondest memories are just being on the Little League field and playing with your buddies, looking forward to snack shack after the game and watching your other friends teams in the league all day on a Saturday afternoon. Those are some of the real great memories of playing in this game that I love.
Once you got to the majors, what was your favorite part of being a pro player?
Oh man. Well, for me and I'm sure for a lot of kids I always dreamed about how I was going to be a big league ball player and it was all I really wanted to do. It was awesome to be able to play at these amazing venues and stadiums that you grew up watching on TV, to get to the big leagues and play with and against veteran players or superstar players you’ve been watching on Sportscenter or grew up admiring, wanting to be like. And now you’re rubbing shoulders with those guys and becoming peers with them. I think that was one of the great things about playing, the camaraderie that you build with your teammates.
IMAGEWas there any player you were particularly excited to meet once you made the pros?
Yeah, Barry Larkin. When I was growing up in Southern California, in junior high and high school, I was a huge Barry Larkin fan. And then I get drafted by the Reds. And when I got to the big leagues, I’m playing third base next to him at short stop and we played together for, like, six seasons and became really good friends. So it’s kind of funny that a guy that really was one of my favorite players was someone I got to play alongside of and become great friends with. That’s pretty surreal.
You’re obviously well known for your legendary home run in the ALCS, how did you keep the pressure from getting to you in that moment?
I think just years of training, years of preparing. Hopefully all the work you’ve put in prepares you to at least be ready for situations and for moments. So, you know, it’s not only that. Having plenty of failures had a big bonus too. As a professional player, especially in baseball where failure is such a big part of it, you got to have the confidence to continue to turn the page and be ready for the next moment. Sometimes you fall down and sometimes you have success, but it doesn’t really matter. You just want to put yourself in the best position to give yourself a chance to have success. So, I think even when we talk about that home run — and I was struggling in that series, but still had the confidence that I could come through in a big spot, just based on all the work and all the training that you’ve had to that point.
How did being a part of a baseball family help you become a better player?
To grow up in the game, the way I did, I think looking back really helped. Since the time I was a little kid, I was in major league clubhouses, rubbing shoulders with great players and being around players. So I think you just learn the game a lot better or you learn the game a lot because I was around it so much and I was around major league players all the time. And then having family members that could relate to what I was going through… My grandpa played in the big leagues, my dad played in the big leagues, both for a long time. My brother was in the big leagues while I was playing. So to have those guys that you can call and talk to, that knew exactly what you were going through and could totally relate to what you were going through, I think was something that I was lucky to have and very helpful in me getting to play a long time in the big leagues.
Who has helped you the most or been your biggest role model since moving to the broadcasting booth?
I would say a guy that really helped me a lot early on was a guy that works at ESPN, he now oversees Sportscenter, named Mike McQuade. He works at ESPN, and for a long time especially in my first years he oversaw baseball at ESPN. He just gave me great feedback and always honest feedback, even if sometimes it was critical. Sometimes it was positive, but I feel like he helped me understand why something was good, why something wasn’t so good and so he was very helpful I think in developing me in this career.
Photos: Allen Kee / ESPN Images (Boone), Scott Clarke / ESPN Images (Boone with crew), Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images (Boone Yankees celebration), Al Bello/Getty Images (Boone home run), Mike Fiala/AFP/Getty Images (Boone and Larkin)