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Meeting Little Leaguers big hit with Pirates

Major Leaguers relish fun time with younger players
August 20, 2017

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- From the moment the Pirates stepped off the bus and made their way toward the Little League World Series fields, manager Clint Hurdle said, "It was almost just like fireworks." How so?"Things kept happening," Hurdle said. "Things that made you smile, things that made you happy you

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- From the moment the Pirates stepped off the bus and made their way toward the Little League World Series fields, manager Clint Hurdle said, "It was almost just like fireworks." How so?
"Things kept happening," Hurdle said. "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."
It felt like a full day even before Ivan Nova threw out the first pitch of the first MLB Little League Classic on Sunday night at BB&T Park at Historic Bowman Field. The Pirates' chartered plane landed just after 10:30 a.m. ET, then they were whisked away by bus to Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium, home of the Little League World Series. They spent a busy morning and afternoon watching baseball and visiting with Little Leaguers.
Here's a look at some of the more memorable moments of an unforgettable day.
Old stomping grounds
Hurdle was one of the first people off the Pirates' plane Sunday morning, and he was greeted with a loud, "Welcome back!" as a nod to his time managing the Double-A Williamsport Bills in 1991. Hurdle smiled and responded, "Thank you! I've been here before!" Then Hurdle implored someone standing in a long line of Little League players -- some from Mexico, others from Jackson, N.J. -- to swap caps.

The rest of the day was similarly uplifting for Hurdle.
"The faces of the kids, the autographs that you sign -- never signed so many autographs in the men's bathroom. It's OK, we washed our hands, and we were good," Hurdle said, smiling. "Just the youthful enthusiasm everywhere you turn was really refreshing."
Swapping signatures
The Pirates welcomed a handful of Little Leaguers onto their bus as they rode from the Williamsport Regional Airport to the Little League World Series site. They were especially entertained by Dean Daddio from the Mid-Atlantic Region champions (Jackson, N.J.).

"He was like, 'You know how everybody's asking for your autograph right now? Usually they're asking for my autograph,'" catcher Jacob Stallings said. "Man, that's actually pretty cool. I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like that."
In return, four Pirates -- Josh Harrison, Josh Bell, Trevor Williams and George Kontos -- hopped onto a bus full of Little Leaguers and their coaches. In the back of the bus, Kontos let a young player hold one of the two World Series rings he earned with the Giants. (Don't worry, he got it back afterward.) Williams, meanwhile, traded his cap for one from Mexico, and wore his new green gear the rest of the day.

Toward the front, Harrison and Bell signed autographs. Harrison was particularly enthusiastic, asking the young players about their baseball careers and favorite subjects in school (his was math) then prompting them to name their favorite team: "It's the Pirates, right?"
Then Harrison surprised the group of youngsters, taking out a pair of all-white cleats and a pair of Sharpies: one black, one gold. Harrison had the Little Leaguers sign his shoes, which he wore Sunday night under the more relaxed Players Weekend uniform guidelines. Harrison considered a number of ideas, and even thought about letting his 3-year-old daughter, Mia, design them.

"But being here at the Little League World Series, I wanted to highlight them and interact with them, and get their signatures and wear them," Harrison said.
Autographs, selfies and more
When the Pirates pulled up to Volunteer Stadium, they were greeted by another wave of Little Leaguers, all looking to shake hands, get autographs and, of course, take selfies with their favorite Pittsburgh players. Andrew McCutchen was a popular figure with the younger generation, as one might expect, but he wasn't the only one. And they certainly weren't shy about it.

"Kids don't seem to be star-struck, which is really cool. 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," McCutchen said. "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."

The Pirates worked their way around the complex, taking in games at both stadiums and hanging out in "The Grove," the players' rec room. Most of the big league players said their favorite part of the day was simply sitting in the seats, watching baseball with their younger counterparts.

"It's amazing how talented they were," catcher Chris Stewart said. "It was fun watching them, reliving what it was like when you were a kid."
Before leaving for historic Bowman Stadium, the Pirates watched the Japanese and South Korean teams run through defensive drills, the big leaguers split up and high-fived the players as they were introduced before the game.

"I had never been there or seen anything like it. It was really interesting," reliever Daniel Hudson said. "Then sitting down there on the field, watching the international teams take infield was pretty cool. I liked that a lot."
That's Amore
Francisco Cervelli was one of the most sought-after Pirates throughout the day. Walking from the bus to Volunteer Stadium, Cervelli stopped to meet a young girl in a McCutchen jersey. After getting her picture taken with Cervelli, the girl turned to her mother and smiled with tears in her eyes.
Cervelli also presented a box of shirts to the Italian and Venezuelan teams and spent more than an hour, in total, talking to players from the Venezuelan team. That time was meaningful for big leaguers and Little Leaguers alike, Cervelli said.

"Because it's really tough for them to come here, they did a lot of things to just get some money to be here," Cervelli said. "It's something we have to applaud because for them, it's not just playing baseball. They only should be worried about coming here to have fun and play, that's it. Now, it's so many different things."
From one generation to the next
Infielder Max Moroff, an alumnus of the 2005 Little League World Series, squatted behind the plate Sunday evening for a creative first pitch. Sixteen kids lined up from center field to the mound, one from each team in this year's tournament, and relayed the ball from the wall to Moroff.

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