The Indians and Angels will play in next year’s MLB Little League Classic, scheduled to take place on Aug. 22, 2021, at the renovated Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa.
Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and Little League International announced next year’s matchup Sunday morning. The game will be a home contest for Cleveland, and it will air nationally that evening exclusively on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast at 7 p.m. ET. It will also be available on ESPN Radio, the ESPN app and ESPN Deportes.
“We're very excited to be selected for what has become a highlight of MLB’s unique lineup of annual showcase games,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris 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.
"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. We look forward to bringing our Major League team to participate next August and fulfill some of those young baseball dreams we had when we were just getting started in this game.”
“Investing in the future of our game has always been a central focus for our organization,” Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno said. “We are honored to participate in this special event that unites MLB’s brightest stars with the game’s next generation.”
Major Leaguers on the Angels and Indians will attend Little League Baseball World Series games earlier in the day on Aug. 22, demonstrating their commitment to growing the sport at the youth level.
“Obviously those kids look up to us as big league ballplayers, so just to be able to go spend some time with them and kind of be in the city where they get to play in the Little League World Series will be cool,” Indians closer Brad Hand said. “And obviously helping out kids and youth baseball is big. If it gets the kids more involved in the game and loving the game of baseball, that's what us as big leaguers should be wanting to do, growing the game. It's definitely going to be a cool experience to be able to go there."
As is tradition, a significant portion of the capacity at Historic Bowman Field that evening for the Little League Classic game, which is part of the “GEICO Summer Series,” will be filled with the players and families of the participating Little League Baseball World Series teams, as well as local Williamsport youth baseball and softball organizations.
The Little League Classic was first played between the Pirates and Cardinals in 2017, sparking an annual tradition that reinforces MLB’s commitment to youth baseball and its young fans throughout the world. The 2018 Classic featured the Phillies and the Mets, followed by the Pirates and Cubs in ’19. This year's installment between the Orioles and Red Sox was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Angels manager Joe Maddon, who was with the Cubs when they visited Williamsport, is looking forward to making a second trip there.
“You get off the airplane and the kids greet you and it's so grassroots, it's so original, it's so organic,” Maddon said. “That's what we really have to promote and get into and make sure that the kids understand what this game is all about. We were all impressed, from the manager right along [to] the players, all the staff, all the traveling party, it's just a really, really big highlight.”
Historic Bowman Field, in which MLB and the State of Pennsylvania invested a multimillion-dollar renovation prior to the 2017 MLB Little League Classic, opened in 1926. More than 560 Major Leaguers, including Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice and Jim Bunning, have worn a professional baseball uniform for Williamsport.
The Little League Classic is one of the higher-profile events that highlights MLB’s commitment to youth baseball, and is part of a larger initiative that launched five years ago with the introduction of the league’s signature Play Ball initiative. Participation in baseball at the youth level continues to have significant growth.
According to the 2019 Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which was released in January 2020, baseball has seen a 20 percent growth in both casual and core participation in the sport since '14, which more than doubles the growth percentage of the second-closest sport (basketball at +8%) and reflects five consecutive years of growth.
In that same time frame, casual participation in baseball has risen 55 percent, and for the fourth consecutive year, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States in 2019, with 25.1 million participants.