Inaugural MLB Little League Classic a success
Daylong celebration culminated in Cardinals-Pirates game
PITTSBURGH -- What made the inaugural MLB Little League Classic between the Pirates and Cardinals so special?
Maybe it was the uniqueness of it all, a Major League game in a Minor League ballpark in front of Little League players. Maybe it was seeing "Yadi" and the Cards against "Cutch" and the Bucs with a sneak peek at the colorful Players Weekend jerseys all of Major League Baseball wore a week later. Maybe it was the postgame handshake line that represented, as Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said, "the spirit of Little League Baseball."
But the true spirit of the event shone through during each club's arrival at the Williamsport Regional Airport and Ivan Nova's first pitch at historic Bowman Field. From the bus rides shared by big leaguers and Little Leaguers to the afternoon spent at the Little League World Series, Aug. 20 was a daylong celebration of baseball in Williamsport, Pa.
It was deemed such a success, in fact, that they'll do it again. The Mets and Phillies are scheduled to meet in the second MLB Little League Classic next August.
"It was almost just like fireworks," Hurdle said. "Things kept happening -- things that made you smile, things that made you happy you were here, appreciative you had the opportunity to be a part of something that was happening for the first time ever."
A pair of LLWS teams greeted each club at the airport, exchanged hats and hopped aboard buses bound for the Little League complex. During the ride, Josh Harrison asked Little Leaguers to sign the cleats he wore that night and peppered them with questions about their young careers. Kolten Wong blasted music and started a dance party. George Kontos let one boy hold his World Series ring. Lance Lynn sat in the back, surrounded by young players hoping to follow in his footsteps.
"I was proud of our guys. They came into this very open-minded, very others-minded," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "They had the opportunity to go and really engage, not pass through, but engage with the kids, connect, and hopefully give back to the game that has been so good to them in a small way."
When they arrived at the LLWS complex, the players were greeted by more Little Leaguers and their families. They snapped selfies and signed autographs in the parking lot before making their way to the stands and the famous center-field hill at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. They watched games and chatted up their LLWS counterparts, much to the kids' delight, and eventually stood on the field during pregame drills.
"Kids don't seem to be star-struck, which is really cool," Andrew McCutchen said. "I remember being young. If I met a big league baseball player, I'd probably be a little standoff-ish, wouldn't want to talk, whatever. These kids seem to be really comfortable where they'll open up and talk to you, share some laughs. It's really cool to be able to have that and share that with them."
Trevor Williams donned a hat from the Mexican team that remained in his locker at PNC Park long after the game. Natives of Venezuela, including Francisco Cervelli and Jose Martinez, made extra time for their home country's LLWS team. Seunghwan Oh offered advice to the South Korean players and later jumped out of his seat while cheering for the team.
Tommy Pham provided refreshments by ordering 200 snow cones, and Luke Voit carried around a souvenir -- an inflatable kangaroo from the Australian team later dubbed "Australian Fredbird" and "Rally Roo" -- that eventually followed them to Bowman Field.
The day evoked memories of youth baseball for everyone involved, but especially for LLWS alumni Lynn, Randal Grichuk and Max Moroff. All three were presented with the jerseys they wore during their trips to the LLWS.
Moroff even took part in the MLB Little League Classic's ceremonial first pitch. Sixteen kids -- one from each team in the tournament -- lined up from center field to the mound and relayed the ball to Moroff. All 16 LLWS teams took the field before the game, standing alongside their Major League heroes, and cheered them on from the stands as part of the capacity crowd of 2,596.
Then came the nationally televised game, a 6-3 Pirates victory highlighted by Josh Bell's home run into the parking lot. Afterward, everybody shook hands and headed home.
"I have a lot of great days in my job," Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the time. "But today has been one of the absolute best."