It’s the time of the year when Major Leaguers are able to step back in time and remember exactly what made them fall in the love with the game of baseball.
After the 2020 MLB Little League Classic was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual tradition will be back tonight, when the Angels and the Indians meet at 7:10 p.m. ET in Williamsport, Pa. -- the home of the Little League World Series.
“It’s a young baseball player’s dream to play on the Little League World Series stage in Williamsport, and only a select few get the opportunity,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said when he first learned his team would participate. “We look forward to bringing our Major League team to participate and fulfill some of those young baseball dreams we had when we were just getting started in this game.”
Neither team has made an appearance at any of the three previous MLB Little League Classics, but everyone is aware of just how special the opportunity is.
"Everyone's really excited,” Angels backstop Max Stassi said. “I think just about every guy that grew up in the U.S. on the team played Little League. So that was a dream of ours when we were young. My team, we never made it to the Little League World Series, so it'll be cool to finally go."
The event began in 2017, and the precedent the Cardinals and Pirates set in the inaugural game was truly special. Tommy Pham and Carlos Martínez bought more than 200 snow cones for the Little Leaguers in the stands for the big league game, Pirates catcher Francisco Cervilli sat in the stands with the members of the team from Italy and the Cardinals had an ongoing joke with the Australian team, keeping its mascot (an inflatable kangaroo) in the big league dugout throughout the game.
Lefty José Suarez will start for the Angels against Indians right-hander Cal Quantrill in front of a crowd full of Little Leaguers and their families at Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. Before the main event, Major Leaguers will sit in the stands, watch the Little League World Series and think back to that time in their own lives, while helping to continue to grow the game for the future.
“We're very excited to be selected for what has become a highlight of MLB’s unique lineup of annual showcase games,” Antonetti said. “The future of baseball will be determined by the next generation of players and fans, so to have the opportunity to engage these young athletes to celebrate and continue to grow this great game will have a powerful and lasting impact on our organization, and especially our players."
What is the MLB Little League Classic?
The MLB Little League Classic is an annual event held in Williamsport that reinforces MLB’s commitment to youth baseball and its young fans throughout the world. The inaugural Classic was played between the Pirates and Cardinals in 2017. In 2018, it featured the Phillies and the Mets, followed by the Pirates and Cubs in ’19. Last year's installment between the Orioles and Red Sox was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Little League Classic is part of a larger initiative that launched five years ago with the introduction of MLB’s signature Play Ball initiative. Participation in baseball at the youth level continues to have significant growth.
Where will the game be played?
The fourth MLB Little League Classic will take place at Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. The ballpark opened in 1926, but it was renovated prior to the inaugural MLB Little League Classic in 2017 to meet MLB standards.
How can I watch the game?
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN beginning at 7:10 p.m. ET. ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball crew, including Matt Vasgersian, Alex Rodriguez and Buster Olney, is set to call the game. Those who’d want to partake in a different experience can tune in to ESPN2 for ESPN’s Kidscast, which will provide commentary from a youth perspective. Former Little League World Series legend Mo’ne Davis will return as an analyst, joining three aspiring reporters and commentators from the Bruce Beck Sports Broadcasting Camp to call the game.
What other activities will be part of the trip?
COVID-19 has altered some of the traditional plans of the annual trip, but Major League Baseball and Little League International have worked together to come up with a plan to make the visit to Williamsport special for both the big and Little Leaguers.
The day will begin, as always, at the Little League complex. There will be no outside public in attendance this year, however, each team has up to 250 friends and family passes to have some people in the stands. The big leaguers will join them to watch parts of Sunday’s games at Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums. Four Little League teams will be eliminated from the Little League World Series on Saturday prior to the MLB players’ arrivals. Those teams will have protocols that are slightly more relaxed than those still in the tournament, leaving the possibility of having outdoor interactions with big leaguers and playing games like Wiffle ball or Spikeball.
Who will be in the stands?
Bowman Field holds just over 2,300 fans, and as always, the majority of those seats will be filled with Little Leaguers and their families. Most of the remaining tickets will go to healthcare professionals and hospital workers to attend as special guests of MLB and Little League.
Who’s been there before?
The organizations are new to the event, but Angels skipper Joe Maddon is looking forward to his second trip there. Maddon took part in the last MLB Little League Classic in 2019 as the manager of the Cubs, who faced the Pirates in the third year of the festivities.
“It's just wonderful,” Maddon said of the experience. “Hopefully my shirt gets here in time. I ordered a shirt with my Little League team's name on the front. It's not the exact one. But really proud of that. … It's one of those that really helped shape you as a human moving forward, you know, as a baseball player, but beyond that, just the self-discipline it takes to participate."
What will the uniforms look like?
For the first time in MLB Little League Classic history, the Indians and the Angels will wear jerseys that replicate the designs of the Little Leaguers’ uniforms. When 12-year-olds from across the country report to Williamsport, they’re no longer just representing their hometowns; they represent an entire region. The tournament is usually made up of eight United States regions and eight international regions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Little League World Series will consist of 16 United States teams. Those regions are New England, Southeast, Midwest, Great Lakes, West, Southwest, Northwest and Mid-Atlantic. The 2021 Little League World Series will have two teams from each region.
To pay homage to that tradition, the Indians will wear the uniform of the region that Cleveland would fall into -- the Great Lakes -- and the Angels will sport West on their jerseys. Each club’s uniforms will still boast the team’s colors, and each hat will also have a regional patch stitched on the side.
• Quantrill has been red-hot since the second half of the season got underway, though he’s coming off his shakiest outing since the All-Star break, giving up three runs on eight hits with one walk, two hit batters and four strikeouts in five innings vs. the Twins on Monday.
• Suarez has posted a 3.88 ERA in 16 appearances (seven starts) this season. The 23-year-old was moved into the rotation on July 5, and he's posted a 5.45 ERA in seven starts. But he's coming off a solid start against the Yankees on Monday, allowing two runs over five-plus innings in a makeup game at Yankee Stadium.