'Baseball at its purest': Red Sox relish Little League Classic

August 22nd, 2022

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The roars for the Red Sox started as soon as they deboarded the plane in Little League World Series country on Sunday around noon ET.

As , , J.D. Martinez and the rest of the players got onto the tarmac, they were warmly greeted by Little League teams from Middleboro, Mass., and Brisbane North, Australia.

Quickly, there were autographs, selfies, fist bumps and conversations.

The day was just getting started. By night, the Red Sox lost, 5-3, to the Orioles in MLB’s Little League Classic.

Even in defeat, Boston manager Alex Cora and his players were able to keep the day in proper perspective. 

“It was great,” said Cora. “Something that I will always remember. This is baseball at its purest. Have fun with the kids, enjoy it and turn the page. The whole morning was outstanding. The atmosphere [during the game] was great. The kids were able to watch some real good baseball and they had a blast. It was an outstanding day, regardless of the results.”

As he walked out of his postgame press conference, Cora spotted a kid in the concourse and played catch with him.

Before retreating to the clubhouse, Cora said to the Little Leaguer, “Keep having fun with your dad.”

For Bogaerts, Boston’s longest-tenured player, the day brought out similar emotion. Perhaps Bogaerts used it as inspiration to swat his elusive 10th homer of the season on a 99.2 mph pitch from Orioles closer Félix Bautista. It was the hardest pitch Bogaerts has gone deep on in his career.

“I always wanted to come to Williamsport as a kid. I had two chances,” said Bogaerts. “I lost against Curacao both times.”

Curacao was represented on Sunday, and Bogaerts enjoyed talking to the kids from that team and finally getting a chance to see Lamade Stadium.

“It was fun just being able to see everything that I dreamt about participating in as a kid,” Bogaerts said. “The fields actually kind of looked better [than on television]. I had an interview in the booth with a couple of guys and I was just looking down, it was an amazing view. It looked like a big league field. I played in multiple tournaments away from home. That grass is definitely greener.”

For the Red Sox, there was a flurry of activity in the hours leading up to the game, highlighted by Cora sliding head-first down a hill on a piece of cardboard.

For decades, this has been a tradition at Lamade Field while Little League World Series games are in progress. Kids essentially go summer-sledding down the hill that overlooks center field.

Cora wasn’t about to miss out during his first trip to Lamade Stadium.

“Well, they made me go down the hill head-first and it didn’t look great but that was awesome,” Cora said. “I always remember watching the games [when I was a kid], that Saturday game, the championship game and seeing everybody sliding. I was like, ‘I’m going to do it.’ I did it like three times. I’ll pay the price tomorrow. I’ll be very sore.”

According to at least one eyewitness, the manager might have had a wipeout.

“A.C. had his little wipeout but I was able to avoid a wipeout,” said Red Sox righty . “[Cora] lost some of his jersey afterwards, it looked like he wiped out and fell off the box. I tried to play it safe and go down on my butt.”

In the midst of a long baseball season which hasn’t gone as well as they anticipated, the Red Sox were able to act like kids while being in the presence of them.

“I had a blast,” said Cora. “For [anyone who has] kids, you understand how it goes. It’s about playing catch, talking about players. I was able to talk to kids from Italy and ask them who their favorite player was and they went from a lot of Jays players to the Yankees to the Orioles, too, and they’re in tune with everything that’s going on. “

For Cora, perhaps the only thing that matched going down the hill head-first was the opportunity to talk to the first Little League team from Puerto Rico to make it to Williamsport.

“For them to be the first one, I kind of explained to them what it means to us. It was a great experience,” said Cora. “I don’t want to say I needed it personally, but this is what Little League is supposed to be. Just have fun and enjoy it and you show up the next day and have more fun.”

On the 2022 Red Sox, nobody has more fun than Devers, who acts like a kid in a candy store every time he’s on the field.

While a Little League World Series game was in progress, Devers and his teammates roamed the stands to spend time with young spectating players.

“One kid told me he was a Tampa Bay fan and I told him to change over to the Red Sox,” said Devers. “It felt great to be able to watch the kids play. It feels great to see how much fun they’re having out there.”

For Red Sox coach and former captain Jason Varitek, the trip was pure nostalgia. In 1984, Varitek was part of the Altamonte Springs, Fla., team that won the United States championship in Williamsport.

“Oh yeah, especially when you look up that way where the barracks were, where the dorms were, and the hill,” said Varitek. “The rest of this [development] didn't really exist except for the practice backfields. At that point in your baseball life, there’s no higher pinnacle than getting to come to Williamsport.”

Bogaerts drove that point home.

“As I told the kids here, cherish the memories,” Bogaerts said. “When you grow up, you’ll be older but those memories you have as a kid last forever.”