WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- There are thousands of kids who funnel in and out of big league stadiums throughout the country every single day. But for one special day out of the year, the roles are temporarily reversed.The Phillies and Mets will close out their five-game series on Sunday in Williamsport
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- There are thousands of kids who funnel in and out of big league stadiums throughout the country every single day. But for one special day out of the year, the roles are temporarily reversed.
The Phillies and Mets will close out their five-game series on Sunday in Williamsport to partake in the second annual MLB Little League Classic (7:10 p.m. ET on ESPN) at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field -- home of the Class A Short Season Williamsport Crosscutters, a Phillies affiliate -- in front of a crowd that will be predominantly Little Leaguers and their families. But before they hit the field, the Major Leaguers will spend the day with the stars of the 2018 Little League World Series.
If this year follows the precedent set in 2017, it will be a day that the players, both big and little, will never forget. Last year, players from the Pirates and Cardinals visited Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums to watch Little Leaguers from around the world compete in the game that they all have in common.
:: Little League Classic presented by GEICO ::
After watching from the stands, intense battles in pingpong and video games broke out in the game room, while Josh Harrison got as many Little Leaguers as he could to sign his cleats to wear for that night's game. Prior to the big league game, instead of going through traditional pregame routines, Francisco Cervelli hung out with members of the Latin American team in the seats, and Tommy Pham and Carlos Martinez teamed up to buy 200 snow cones for the Little Leaguers in the stands. The Cardinals created a special bond with the team from Australia throughout the day, keeping the team's blow-up kangaroo mascot in the dugout for good luck.
From the day at the Little League complex, to many kids witnessing their first Major League game, to the bus rides with the Little Leaguers to the big leaguers sharing seats and stories in between, this was the beginning of a tradition unlike any other.
"One of the highlights of my career," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said last year. "I was happy to be a part of it, humbled to be a part of it."
There are similar expectations for Sunday. The day will begin when the Phillies and Mets are greeted at the airport by this year's Little Leaguers before the pros sit back and watch the Little League World Series from the stands in the early afternoon. Former USA softball gold medalist Jennie Finch is also expected be in attendance at the Little League complex, including a stop at Play Ball Park, where any fan can stop by and hone their baseball and softball skills or compete in a virtual reality home run derby competition.
After visits to the Grove -- the area the World Series participants stay during their near two-week stint in Williamsport -- and Play Ball Park, former Little Leaguer Scott Kingery of the Phillies will be honored at Lamade Stadium before Mets Little League alumni Todd Frazier and Michael Conforto get recognized later in the afternoon.
"It will be fun to hang out with the kids," Conforto said. "It will be refreshing. We're getting into the middle of August, getting toward the end of the year, just a short amount of days and games. It can wear on you a little bit, so I think just having those kids around us will energize us a little bit. I just think it will be unique. It will be different than the day-in, day-out grind of the season. So I'm excited about it."
Frazier, Kingery and Conforto are three of the 54 Major Leaguers in history who once played in the Little League World Series. This will be Conforto's first trip back to Williamsport since he competed in the 2004 World Series with his team from Redmond, Wash., and Kingery's first time back since he and his twin brother made up the middle infield for his Ahwatukee All-Star team from Phoenix in '06.
"When I watch it, it brings back the memories of being able to play there and knowing what those kids are going through, what they're feeling," Kingery said. "It's nerve-wracking and also exciting at the same time."
Frazier took his team from Toms River, N.J., to the championship game of the Little League World Series in 1998, and he is looking forward to reliving his glory days on Sunday.
"It gives [the kids] something to dream for," Frazier said. "I wanted to meet as many big leaguers as I could when I was younger. The fact that they get to meet two teams, and a lot of superstars on each team, it means a lot to the kids. We're going to try to make it as special as possible for them.
"It's going to mean a lot to me to be there, to represent Little League a little bit, to show these kids, stick with your dream. You want to be a big leaguer, man? Just work your butt off to do it."
Although the afternoon will feel like a break from the everyday grind of professional baseball, the game between New York and Philadelphia in the evening is as real as any other. Former Little Leaguer Nick Pivetta will take the mound for the Phillies as the team continues to battle for the National League East division title, while Jason Vargas will get the ball for the Mets.
Each team will sport its Players' Weekend uniforms on Sunday, with Frazier using "Toddfather" as his nickname on the back, Conforto going with "Scooter" and Kingery choosing "Jetpax."
Last year, the daylong festivities ended with a handshake line on the field after the final out of Pirates and Cardinals' game was made. If this year's follows in the footsteps of last year's, the Little League Classic will once again end with a "good game."
Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.