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Cubs, Bucs enjoy visit with kids at The Grove

Major Leaguers and Little Leaguers mingle at living complex in Williamsport
@JakeCrouseMLB
August 18, 2019

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The Little League World Series can put pressure on the kids from 16 teams across the globe who compete in it. So it’s nice to have a space to kick back, too. Players from the Cubs and Pirates got to experience that oasis on Sunday, as they

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The Little League World Series can put pressure on the kids from 16 teams across the globe who compete in it. So it’s nice to have a space to kick back, too.

Players from the Cubs and Pirates got to experience that oasis on Sunday, as they visited The Grove -- the living complex for the Little Leaguers in Williamsport -- ahead of their matchup in the Little League Classic presented by GEICO.

As soon as the Cubs’ contingent of Kyle Schwarber, David Bote and Ian Happ reached the steps that lead to The Grove’s activities area, all were challenged to ping-pong matches.

Much like pitchers share pitch grips, Bote taught some members of the Australian team how to play against hard spin on the table. Schwarber played three consecutive doubles sets with Australian players and the Southwest team from River Ridge, La. -- spicing things up by alternating returns each time and betting 10 pushups in his final round.

“It’s been a while since I’ve played ping-pong, and [the kids are] pretty good,” Schwarber said. “It’s pretty cool that they get to have all that interaction with two different teams. People can come in and have friendly competitions in ping-pong or whatever [else there] is.”

The other amenities offered in the space at The Grove include a handful of arcade machines, a viewing area adorned with benches propped up on wooden home-plate pedestals, four TVs to play video games with a rainbow of bean bags to sit on and a pair of slick-surfaced cornhole boards that the Pirates enjoyed.

They shared the space with players from the Northwest squad out of Salem, Ore. Almost immediately, shortstop Kevin Newman dubbed them “studs” for making the tournament.

Impressively, Steven Brault, who pitched the longest start of his Major League career on Saturday in the Pirates’ 2-0 loss to the Cubs, went on to toss a complete game of cornhole with the Northwest team at The Grove, squaring off with Newman.

That battle was tight, but Newman left no question about his abilities at ping-pong -- blazing through competitors. Even with his .301 batting average this season, he told the Northwest team he might be better at it than baseball.

“There might be some truth to it,” Newman said. “I don’t know.”

Only a few members from each MLB team made the visit, but Schwarber had the opportunity to send a film with the New England team out of Barrington, R.I., to one of the Cubs’ aces.

“One kid comes up to me and he goes, ‘Jon-nie Lest-ah!’ with that hard, thick Boston accent,” Schwarber said. “I was like, ‘We’ve got to get a video.’”

The message? “Jon-nie Lest-ah, you got a wicked cutt-ah!”

Major Leaguers aren’t the only ones who have wicked stuff. The Little League players have shown their ability to hit 70-plus mph on the gun and drive bomb after bomb over the fence.

Newman understands the talent level required to make it to this stage of 16 in a worldwide competition. The Pirates shortstop said at their age, he spent his time “sitting at home watching this event.” The process is not too different from that of reaching the College World Series, which his Arizona Wildcats last did in 2012.

“You come here and you see these kids that have gotten here -- to understand how good they are to get here, it’s pretty amazing,” Newman said.

Yet with competition also comes camaraderie, and The Grove helps forge even stronger bonds among players. After meeting the Australian, Southwest and New England teams, Schwarber knew how big the simple act of sharing space can be.

“The fact that you have an international team and an American team, they’re in there collaborating together -- I’m sure it’s easier when it’s English with English,” he said. "But when you have two different cultures and languages, there [are] differences. But I’m sure there [are] going to be lifelong friendships made.”

And while sharing the experience at The Grove with Major Leaguers is obviously exciting for the kids, the Cubs and Pirates were wowed by it, too.

“To go and hang out with that team, it’s just as cool for me to be with them as it is for them to be with us,” Newman said. “It’s an awesome moment, and this is a really special place.”

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.