WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- If not for the electric orange caps atop their heads, one might have missed the men who shuffled into the sixth row behind home plate at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field on Sunday, taking their seats among a group of Little Leaguers from Staten Island. Scheduled
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- If not for the electric orange caps atop their heads, one might have missed the men who shuffled into the sixth row behind home plate at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field on Sunday, taking their seats among a group of Little Leaguers from Staten Island. Scheduled off from work, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard instead took in a ballgame on what Syndergaard called "a beautiful night for baseball" in "the farmlands of Pennsylvania."
The idea hatched earlier in the day, when the Mets' team plane did not land in time for them to catch Staten Island's latest win at the Little League World Series across town. Although Mets officials invited the Staten Island players onto Bowman Field to watch them take batting practice, the pitchers wanted to do something more.
:: Little League Classic presented by GEICO ::
So in the second inning of the second annual MLB Little League Classic presented by Geico, which the Mets won, 8-2, the representatives from two New York City boroughs mingled.
"There might be a little Noah Syndergaard, a little Jacob deGrom running around, a little Zack Wheeler running around tonight," Syndergaard said. "You never know if you've made that kind of special moment for a kid."
Such is the magic of the Little League Classic, which for two years now has brought big leaguers to Williamsport for an afternoon that reminds them of the children they once were. Earlier in the day, a group of Phillies joined Panamanian and Japanese players on the field before a game. deGrom grabbed a microphone and interviewed a starstruck child. Rhys Hoskins and "Big Al" Delia shared their mutual love of hitting dingers.
And all that before the Classic itself, which featured a four-run Mets rally as Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Wheeler sat in the stands. Afterward, players from both teams met on the infield for the traditional handshake lines that follow Little League games.
"This is what we want to do," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "We know it's big for baseball. We know the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball can enhance our game and we're not going to miss that opportunity."
This was indeed what MLB had in mind when it established the Little League Classic last year, though it couldn't have anticipated the Mets and Phillies rosters featuring three former Little League World Series participants -- Scott Kingery, who appeared in the 2006 event with his team from Ahwatukee, Ariz.; Michael Conforto, who made the 2004 tournament with his club from Redmond, Wash.; and of course Todd Frazier, who became Williamsport royalty after starring in Toms River, N.J.'s 1998 run to the championship.
Little League surprised Frazier early in the afternoon with a reunion of his old teammates, who watched as he took the mound to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.
"It's crazy how the time has passed," Frazier said. "I felt like we were about to go in that dugout again and play for the championship."
Even those making their first trip to Williamsport reveled in the experience. Just as smitten as Hoskins, who chronicled his meeting with "Big Al" on social media, Mets outfielder Jose Bautista invited the 12-year-old star to take batting practice at Citi Field. Jacob Arrieta enjoyed his time at the World Series so much that after his Phillies teammates bused over to Bowman Field for their own game, Arrieta drove back to the Little League complex to continue hanging with the kids.
When Kingery walked into a dugout there earlier in the day, he smiled as a Little Leaguer stopped him with a shout of, "Whoa! Scott Kingery!"
"That's crazy," the Phillies rookie said, "because I remember sitting in that dugout and thinking how cool it would have been for someone to walk in who was playing Major League Baseball."
Consider it a tradition that won't end soon. Prior to Sunday night's game, MLB announced that the Cubs and Pirates will play in the 2019 Classic at Williamsport, keeping alive for another year what so many have come to cherish.
"I thought the day for me put things in perspective," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "You go out and watch these Little League guys have fun and play the games and do it with passion, and they're not worried about anything else. … I think we need to realize that this is still a game. Even though we have to deal with different circumstances, it's always just going to be a game. We've got to go out there and play it the right way.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.