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Manfred sees annual potential in Williamsport

Little League Classic draws heavy praise in first edition
MLB.com @castrovince

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Sunday's MLB Little League Classic between the Pirates and Cardinals was not officially branded as an "inaugural" event. But the phrase appears likely to apply, given Commissioner Rob Manfred's enthusiastic remarks about the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball back to the Little League World Series in 2018 and beyond.

"Hopefully we'll continue to play here and it will become an annual event," Manfred said. "My expectation is that if we do it again, we would use different teams. With all special events, we try to rotate teams through them. I know there was a lot of interest throughout the league from teams that wanted to be here and had players that played in the Little League World Series."

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WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Sunday's MLB Little League Classic between the Pirates and Cardinals was not officially branded as an "inaugural" event. But the phrase appears likely to apply, given Commissioner Rob Manfred's enthusiastic remarks about the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball back to the Little League World Series in 2018 and beyond.

"Hopefully we'll continue to play here and it will become an annual event," Manfred said. "My expectation is that if we do it again, we would use different teams. With all special events, we try to rotate teams through them. I know there was a lot of interest throughout the league from teams that wanted to be here and had players that played in the Little League World Series."

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Sunday featured a full slate in which the lives of the big leaguers and the Little Leaguers intertwined. Members of the Cardinals and Pirates milled among fans at Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium on the Little League World Series grounds -- signing autographs, buying snow cones and making memories. They then reported to duty for a regular-season tilt at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, with the crowd almost entirely made up of Little Leaguers and their families, and a national ESPN audience tuned in.

Starting Pictures: MLB Little League Classic

Staging the Little League Classic required an extensive renovation at Bowman Field, the second-oldest active Minor League stadium in the U.S. MLB invested in the multimillion dollar project in which the playing surface was totally reconstructed and new foul poles, bullpens and a batter's eye were installed. Additional features required for Sunday's game included an X-ray room in case of injury, a video room for in-game film study and an additional trainer's room, as well as a media workroom and other temporary installations.

The roughly 2,500-seat facility became the smallest capacity building used to play host to a Major League game, "beating" the 5,000-seat capacity South End Grounds, where the Boston Braves played from 1871-1914.

"I was actually shocked at how great it looked," said Manfred, who toured Bowman Field roughly a year ago. "The quality of the field is something Minor League players will have here for a very long time. The seating will make it a better experience for the fans. It's just all positive, but it was a lot of work to do. State of Pennsylvania was a big partner of ours."

Manfred's comments seemingly confirmed what many casual observers hoped as they witnessed the excitement, which is that MLB would not have invested so much time, energy and money into the stadium if it didn't intend to use it more than once. Manfred noted that because the ballpark's tenants -- the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters -- are a Philadelphia farm club, the Phillies would be a natural fit to one day be the "home" team for another installment of the Little League Classic.

"I hope it's not a one-off," Manfred said. "I think the day has been a positive. I think the players are really positive about it. Some details have to be worked out to put us in position to do it again. I'm really hopeful that's the case. A relationship here with Little League is really important to growing the game."

Tweet from @MLB: There���s no age requirement to be a ballplayer. #MLBLittleLeagueClassic pic.twitter.com/mVHMlyrWY9

Last season, MLB staged a game between the Braves and Marlins at Fort Bragg (N.C.) to honor the nation's servicemen and servicewomen. Manfred said he'd like to have roughly two to three special events, like the Fort Bragg game and the Little League Classic, each year.

"We feel baseball is a growth game," he said. "And to grow the game, it is important to take our games to places we don't ordinarily play."

Though nothing was yet set in stone, the Little League Classic looks likely to become an annually thriving part of the game.

"We'd be thrilled," Little League president and CEO Steve Keener said of the possibility. "This was one of the greatest days in Little League World Series history. If we could have one of these every year, we'd be delighted."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.