Little League Classic a big deal for MLB

Aug. 20 Cardinals-Pirates game will again put spotlight on youth baseball

March 9th, 2017

The Little League World Series may very well be on your bucket list of things you'd like to see. If you've already been there, you understand why. There's an electricity to the event that's contagious, and to watch the games is to be caught up in the emotion and drama.

And so isn't this perfect that Major League Baseball will be part of the event this year? The Cardinals and Pirates will play on Aug. 20 in Williamsport, Pa., at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, home of the Class A Williamsport Crosscutters and a few miles from the site of the Little League World Series.

If I'm Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, I'm tweaking my rotation to line up right-hander to start that day. In 1999, he was on the Brownsburg, Ind., Little League team that got all the way to the Little League World Series. His St. Louis teammate, left fielder , played in the LLWS twice as part of the Lamar National Little League from the Houston suburb of Richmond.

Plenty of other Major Leaguers -- from to to -- also played in the Little League World Series. So did Rays manager Kevin Cash as part of his Northside Little League team in Tampa.

This is about Major League Baseball -- and two of its iconic franchises -- shining a spotlight on the Little League World Series. The Cardinals and Pirates will attend LLWS games as a show of support for youth baseball in general and the Little League World Series in particular.

And then the Cards and Bucs will host Little Leaguers and their families at the game they're calling the MLB Little League Classic.

From the moment Rob Manfred became baseball's 10th Commissioner on Jan. 25, 2015, his first priority was youth baseball. He wanted to make sure every kid in the United States had the opportunity to play baseball.

In 26 months since, Manfred and his staff have traveled around the country, promoting youth initiatives and dedicating fields and offering support. Thousands of kids have been impacted by baseball's Urban Youth Academies and its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs.

Angels reliever was so touched by seeing the impact youth baseball made on kids in his hometown of Austin, Texas, that he committed $1 million to the RBI program.

"It's about baseball, sure," Street said recently. "But it's about giving these kids mentors and positive role models. When kids know someone cares about them, it's a big, big deal."

That's part of what's at play here. The Cardinals and Pirates will play on ESPN that evening. But apart from the game, it will be an infomercial for the power of youth baseball.

This event feels like an appropriate follow-up to the Braves and Marlins playing last July 3 at Fort Bragg.

For sure, players weren't unanimously thrilled to have their regular-season schedules interrupted. It turned out to be one of the most powerful and memorable experiences those players, coaches and managers have had in baseball.

They were so embraced by the troops and by the outpouring of emotion and patriotism that players lingered after the game ended to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible.

Here's hoping that's exactly how the Bucs and Cards feel when they're finished playing on Aug. 20. They surely will be touched by seeing all those kids playing their sport and dreaming the same dreams they once had.

One thing both these games have in common is taking a Major League game to fans who don't typically get to experience one.

Manfred's vision is to take Major League Baseball to other countries and to continue expanding its footprint. But part of that mission is to deepen baseball's roots in every corner of this country and to put more kids in uniforms.

That's ultimately what this game is about. While it has a larger mission, it's also going to be a very compelling thing for the rest of us to sit back and watch in a different kind of setting.