I admit it. I’m hooked. Try as I might, from day into night, I can’t look away from the big-screen television.

Cable news? Nope – not if it’s August.

Welcome to the Little League World Series.

Every summer around this time, I tune out the politics and mass disasters screaming for my attention up and down the channel guide.

I ignore my overgrown lawn.

While the rest of the world has fun in the sun, I park myself in front of the tube for game … after game … after game …

Why the fixation?

Because when it comes to pure drama, nothing touches these kids, still on the cusp of adolescence, as they chase down their wildest dreams in front of a national TV audience.

You want ecstasy? You got it Tuesday evening when pitcher Aiden Lee of the South Portland American team, Maine’s state champs, got the last hitter to pop up to right-center and thus kept Maine alive in the New England Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut.

(Point of clarification: Tuesday’s game actually was streamed live on ESPN-3, which I called up on my laptop. Like I said, I’m obsessed.)

You want heartbreak? It was etched on the face of the poor opposing pitcher after a passed ball enabled South Portland’s Nolan Hobbs to scamper home with the winning run in the 3-2 squeaker over Cumberland, Rhode Island.

You want grit? Nobody out-hustles South Portland catcher Richie “Big Daddy Hacks” Gilboy, who ran into and through an open gate in the chain link fence behind home plate in pursuit of a foul pop – and then returned to his position with a “What just happened?” smile plastered across his face.

More on the kids from Maine in a minute. First, it turns out I’m not alone.

“I haven’t missed a year,” Paul Pickett, 58, told me Wednesday morning during a short break from his nonstop chimney service business. “I keep telling my wife, I say, ‘One of these years I’m going to go down there and watch it.’ And I will. That’s one of the things on my bucket list.”

Pickett, who now lives in Gray, batted second and played third on the 1971 Augusta East Little League team – one of only three in Maine baseball history that have made it all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (The other two were Portland Suburban in 1951 and Westbrook in 2005.)

“It was awesome,” recalled Pickett, who was joined on the roster by his younger brother, Ed “Poochie” Pickett. Their uncle, Charlie Gallant, coached.

“Charlie just forced defense down our throats,” Paul Pickett said. “At practice every day, no lie, each kid would have to take 100 ground balls, and if you missed one, you ran out and got it. And we did that day after day after day. People would call it child abuse if they did it now.”

But it worked.

They marched through the state tournament, in which Pickett remembers hitting an opposite-field triple and scoring on a passed ball to beat Saco, 3-2, in extra innings and keep Augusta’s hopes alive.

They ran circles around the Eastern Regional, fighting back from an 8-6 deficit to beat powerhouse Maryland, 10-8.

And on they went to the big show in Williamsport, where they finally fell to Spain, 5-0.

Back then, ABC televised only the final championship game between Indiana and Taiwan – a far cry from the dozens of games now shown either on cable or online.

But memories? Pickett has tons.

“I remember I first get there and the first thing I see is this kid who looks like a man,” he said.

That would be Lloyd McClendon of Gary, Indiana, who went on to play eight seasons in the majors and manage the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners. He’s now the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers.

“I think he swung his bat six or seven times and hit six or seven home runs,” recalled Pickett. “He was just a man among boys. I’ll be damned if I didn’t grow up and follow that name.”

Start to finish, the entire Augusta team felt like royalty.

Despite being knocked out in their first game – unlike today’s double-elimination format, it was “one and done” back in those days – they went to the White House to meet Vice President Spiro Agnew. Then came dinner with Neil Armstrong, who just two years earlier became the first man to set foot on the moon.

But it was the baseball that truly mattered.

“No lie, we had one error in 11 games,” Pickett boasted. “That’s just crazy.”

Back in 1996, almost the entire Augusta team gathered for a 25-year reunion. Two years ago, more than half of them showed up to be inducted, as an entire squad, into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.

Meaning they haven’t forgotten. If anything, Pickett said, memories of that summer sharpen as the years, and now the decades, fly by.

“I still think of it now and then,” he mused, “Especially at this time of year.”

Which brings us back to our current Maine champs.

It’s a Cinderella story in the making: The entire South Portland American Little League, from which these 11 all-stars were drawn, consists of just 33 players divided among three teams – a far cry from other Maine cities and towns with triple that number.

“So, to compete the way we have and to see these kids doing what they’re doing is pretty incredible,” said Jim Poole, the head coach, in an interview Wednesday from Bristol.

Yet there they are, with a 2-1 record, playing their hearts out to avoid that season-ending second loss.

Things looked bleak Tuesday evening after Rhode Island jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But then pitcher Andrew Heffernan drew a deep breath, dialed in a curve ball that both TV commentators christened “nasty,” and shut his opponents down until reliever Lee took over in the fifth.

“That was a super game,” said Poole. “Very exciting for the kids.”

Three more wins and they punch their ticket to Williamsport, starting today at 1 p.m. against Vermont on ESPN.

And if per chance they don’t make it? Life will go on, as will the tournament.

“I just say, ‘At the end of the day guys, you know why we’re here and there’s nothing that can stop us,’ ” said Poole. “And they believe it. Any challenge that comes at them, they’ve handled it. It’s fantastic.”

That’s why, political winds be damned, I’ll be watching. So will Charlie Gallant, now 70, who guided that Augusta team almost a half-century ago.

“I have not missed one since we went,” Gallant said over the phone Wednesday as he flipped through his Little League scrapbook. “I just love it. To me, that’s real baseball.”

And these are the real boys of summer.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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