WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The 2023 Little League Classic between the Nationals and Phillies counts as a regular-season home game for the Nats. Manager Dave Martinez wants his team to appreciate how much more the experience of participating in the annual event, centered around the Little League World Series, means.
“I’m going to start off by saying I want to come back,” Martinez said after Washington’s 4-3 win on Sunday. “What a great experience for the players, for the guys, for our organization. It was unbelievable. A long day, but an unbelievable day. We all had fun.”
The Nationals arrived Sunday morning at Williamsport Regional Airport, where they were greeted by excited Little Leaguers from around the globe. From there, they spent the afternoon at Lamade Stadium, getting to know the players and participating in activities with them -- including sliding down the iconic hill -- while watching the Little League World Series tournament.
“It blew me away,” Martinez said. “TV doesn’t do it any justice of what it is. I was amazed. … It’s all about baseball and passion and watching the kids play with heart. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Then, the Nationals took the field at historic Bowman Field in front of teams from the LLWS, their coaches and families.
In the Nationals' first appearance in the Little League Classic, they emerged victorious on national television and in front of an international crowd. Starting right-hander Trevor Williams delivered six scoreless innings on two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. It was Williams’ third trip to the LLC, and he changed up his usual start day routine to soak in the scenes.
“Even just to get a little taste of it today, coming off the airplane and saying hello to the team, to after the game seeing Little Leaguers and their families ask for autographs,” Williams said. “I also got to walk around downtown Williamsport today, to experience that a little bit. Overall, it’s a fun day. It’s something that everyone wants to come back and do again.”
The Nats’ offense gave him an early four-run cushion. CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses connected on singles in the first three at-bats to load the bases for Keibert Ruiz. The catcher doubled to drive in two. Then, Dominic Smith doubled the lead with a line-drive single.
The Phils’ bats threatened to spoil things in the ninth, but Kyle Finnegan nailed down the save after giving up a Jake Cave home run.
In a close game played in a close-knit setting, the Nationals were able to appreciate the excitement from the young fans. Ruiz got hyped up by hearing the San Francisco Little League team from Maracaibo, Venezuela in the Latin America region cheering for him behind home plate.
“It’s been a really good experience,” Ruiz said. “Being here and getting the opportunity to see these kids – I was there [playing Little League] when I was 12 years old. That’s the best age to play baseball, I think. You just have a lot of fun, and it’s really special to be here with all these kids.”
Abrams, the youngest player on the Nationals roster at 22 years old, was swarmed by fans throughout the day. He said he was “definitely a little surprised” by the level of attention, and their excitement made him reminiscent of his playing years before the bigs.
“It was a lot of fun,” Abrams said. “Growing up, watching Little League and actually getting to go to the field, it’s actually a lot more exciting than you think it is. And all the kids out there having fun, it kind of turns me into a little kid, too, brings me back to those days. Just a great day all around.”
As Martinez emphasizes, the Nationals went 1-0 in the Little League Classic. Their goal is to make another appearance, and the next time, having grown even more.
“One, they should feel blessed about [participating in] something like this,” Martinez said. “Two, they should understand that there’s more to come. This is only the beginning. Take it for what it’s worth, understand where we’re at and enjoy every moment of it but learn from it. Because I really believe in this club. We’ve been there before, and there’s a limelight at the end of this tunnel, and these guys are going to reap the benefits.”