WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- From the mound, he could hear the rumble and see the wave, the shrieking of voices and the parting of bodies as the men in black and gold made their way through the stands. Here, in the midst of the game of Reid Hefflick's young life, came
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- From the mound, he could hear the rumble and see the wave, the shrieking of voices and the parting of bodies as the men in black and gold made their way through the stands. Here, in the midst of the game of Reid Hefflick's young life, came one of the more surreal moments of his young life.
"Oh my!" Hefflick, a 13-year-old member of Canada's Little League World Series squad who hit a three-run homer and pitched 3 2/3 effective innings in a win over Latin America, thought to himself. "The Pittsburgh Pirates are watching me pitching!"
For the little kids and the big kids, there would be many such moments, many pinch-me bits of perfection that emanated out of the first MLB Little League Classic on Sunday.
Though it culminated with the handshake line that formed on the field after the Pirates' 6-3 win over the Cardinals in an incredibly intimate setting, this was a daylong outreach effort that went even better than expected. The Classic was an instant classic, one that MLB is rightly aiming to install as an annual and integral part of the August schedule, and one that teams other than the Buccos and Cards need to experience for a reminder of how they got here and whom they play for.
Whatever it takes to make this happen again, make it happen.
"At the end of the day," said Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison, "it's bigger than you."
Harrison said this in the cramped home clubhouse at historic Bowman Field, a roughly 2,500-seat venue that became the smallest-capacity stadium ever to host an MLB game. Behind him hung the brightly colored jersey (bearing his nickname, "J Hay") that he and his teammates donned for Sunday's game and will don again on Players Weekend. And there in his locker sat the white cleats he brought with him to the Little League World Series to have signed by the kids -- a role reversal that spoke to how seriously players like Harrison, who wore the cleats during Sunday's game, embraced this opportunity.
"I'm a firm believer in there are far more important things than what I do on the field," Harrison added. "I want to go 4-for-4 and make every defensive play, but it's also cool to take a step back and meet those kids and realize they're the future of the game we're playing today."
The members of the Pirates and Cardinals deserve credit for making the best of hectic circumstances. Their Saturday game in Pittsburgh was delayed two hours by rain, adding another wrinkle to an already unorthodox travel plan that involved an early Sunday flight, visits to Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium on the Little League grounds, and then on-the-fly adaptation to a Minor League facility during their pregame prep.
Rather than bemoan any of the above, they celebrated and maximized the value of this event.
The Cardinals' Tommy Pham and Carlos Martinez sprung for 200 snow cones for the kids seated around them at Lamade. The Cards put Australia's inflatable kangaroo (they christened him "Rally Roo," thereby creating questions as to whether the "Rally Cat" has already been replaced) in their dugout. Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli spent some quality time with the kids from Venezuela at a time of deep political unrest in their native land. Lance Lynn split his frozen pop in two and shared it with a kid. And signatures were signed, well, pretty much everywhere.
"I've never signed so many autographs in the men's bathroom," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a smile.
Wash those hands, and then give them a hand. The Bucs and Cards rose to the occasion.
So did the kids, who pushed through the nerves of the flipped script of having big leaguers watching them from the stands (it's a rare day when the dude walking around the crowd in an Andrew McCutchen jersey really is Andrew McCutchen) and, in some cases, put on a show like the ones you see in "The Show."
"It made me want to do better than normally," said Christian Mumphery, the Lufkin (Texas) Little Leaguer who drove in three runs in a 6-3 win over New England. "Because then they might remember me or something."
What everybody involved will remember are the easy smiles and the genuine appreciation for each other that came out of the Classic. Welcome sights in trying times.
"Kind and colorblind," Hurdle said. "That's what I saw all day today. People being kind, being nice, people having fun, people appreciating other people."
The Little League Classic was easy to appreciate, and Commissioner Rob Manfred, whose desire to tap into the youth space was the genesis behind the event, indicated strongly that it will be back in 2018. MLB invested in the multimillion-dollar renovation that got Bowman Field up to playing par for a big league game.
"I have a lot of great days in my job," Manfred said. "But today has been one of the absolute best."
The kids shared the sentiment, and that, ultimately, is what this was all about.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.