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LLWS has Bucs reflecting on playing as kids

Jaso, LeBlanc among players excited to play Sunday in Williamsport, Pa.
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- John Jaso began his professional career as a catcher. Briefly relegated to life as a designated hitter before finding a home at first base with the Pirates last year, Jaso has spent most of his time in left and right field this season.

But back in the day, when Jaso was playing Little League ball in his hometown of McKinleyville, Calif., you could find him in the middle of the diamond.

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PITTSBURGH -- John Jaso began his professional career as a catcher. Briefly relegated to life as a designated hitter before finding a home at first base with the Pirates last year, Jaso has spent most of his time in left and right field this season.

But back in the day, when Jaso was playing Little League ball in his hometown of McKinleyville, Calif., you could find him in the middle of the diamond.

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"I think I was a shortstop in Little League. I think I caught a little bit," Jaso said. "The very first position I played was second base, I remember. Some things have changed since then."

Jaso is one of three Little League alumni on the Pirates' active roster, along with lefty reliever Wade LeBlanc and infielder Max Moroff, who was promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday.

Video: Moroff remembers LLWS experience fondly

Given their experience, Jaso and LeBlanc are looking forward to playing in front of the current generation of Little Leaguers when the Pirates play the Cardinals in MLB's first Little League Classic on Sunday in Williamsport, Pa. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"I'm excited about going to Williamsport, for sure. Just being around all those kids and allowing those kids to be around us is going to be cool for both sides," Jaso said. "It's a cool opportunity for all of us to take advantage of this opportunity to let the kids get close and let them see what big league life is kind of about -- and for us to remember what being a kid and playing this sport is all about, too."

The Bucs and Cards will play at Bowman Field during the Little League World Series in front of a crowd made up mostly of Little League players and their families. Before the game, the big leaguers will get a chance to interact with their younger counterparts.

A month shy of his 34th birthday, Jaso can remember playing baseball when he was 11 or 12. His team reached the "TOCs" -- Tournament of Champions -- and won its regional tournament.

"It was just playing the game when you're that young. With the group I was around, and the parents I was around as well, it was just a lot of fun," Jaso said. "It wasn't too big on winning and losing or performance out there. It was just a lot of fun. Almost like playing for that snow cone at the end of the game."

Video: Mercer shares thoughts on Little League World Series

LeBlanc, 33, shares a similar perspective. He has never played in Williamsport, either, and called the experience something he can "kind of mark off the bucket list." LeBlanc played for South Lake Charles (La.) Little League, pitching and hitting.

"It was all kids I had grown up with up to that point," LeBlanc said. "Felt like more family. Summer vacations were spent playing the game."

But Little League Baseball was nonetheless a learning experience for LeBlanc. The veteran lefty has enjoyed a long career since being selected in the second round of the 2006 Draft, spending parts of nine seasons in the Majors and one across the Pacific Ocean in Japan, and it all started with the lessons of Little League.

"I think you just slowly learn about yourself," LeBlanc said. "As philosophical as that is, taking beats, taking lumps and having successes and learning who you are."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, John Jaso, Wade LeBlanc