Baseball went back to its roots Sunday, as the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals faced off on baseball’s biggest little stage in Williamsport, PA.
Baseball is a business. We’re reminded of that every time a Pittsburgh Pirates player is traded, DFAed or benched. We keep that in mind as we hear news filtering out of the Winter Meetings. And we feel it every time we reach for our credit cards to pay increasingly higher prices for tickets to see a game or enjoy a beer and some nachos in the seats.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals played in the inaugural Little League Classic, an it-counts-on-your-permanent-record game, “hosted” by the Pirates, at BB&T Park at Bowman Field, the site of the annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Designed to help promote the connection between the little leagues and the major leagues and revive interest in the sport, the game took place the first weekend of competition of the 71st international Little League World Series. And it’s safe to say, it was a smashing success.
The day started a little earlier than it would for a a 7 p.m. game, with players from both teams arriving at a nearby airport before noon. And from the moment they stepped off the plane until the moment they took the field that evening, for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was all about the kids.
“Are We There Yet?”
The guys were excited to get to the field!
Felipe Rivero was a man on a mission from the moment the wheels hit the ground:
All About the Kids
Throngs of baseball-uniform clad kids met the team on the tarmac:
They engaged in the time-honored tradition of exchanging caps with players from other teams.
Reliever Daniel Hudson was mindful of clashing colors:
They also rode the bus to the Park with little leaguers:
(My guess is that JR got to keep the hat, but not the World Series ring!)
George Kontos had a great seat for the action:
Joaquin Benoit spent some time with team Japan:
Even kids sometimes need a break from baseball. That’s what the game room at the Little League World Series is for! Kids squared off against Pirates players in cornhole and ping pong, and I understand that the players were as competitive there as they were against the Cards later that night.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Venezuelan contingent (as well as a few other players) met up with Team Venezuela.
Players helped welcome kids onto the field prior to their games:
(Wouldn’t it have been cool for Jung Ho Kang to be present for this moment…)
Something about this pairing just felt right:
They also just chilled in the seats with kids – making memories and a few friends:
Jordy Mercer wandered further afield, to the grassy areas in right field outside of the stadium to take in the whole spectacle:
And Starling Marte gave the kids he was visiting a lesson on conducting media interviews – from a very intimate perspective:
Clint Hurdle remarked on the broadcast that after 48 years, he was excited to finally get to the Little League World Series. The Pirates rookie players echoed his sentiments, although it hasn’t been quite so long since any of these guys were in the littles:
The Good Ol’ Days
The Little League World Series made a few players reflective of their time playing ball as youngsters:
While this is a photo of Josh Bell from the game last night, his caption is throwing it back to another Little Leaguer who stole everyone’s hearts:
This Tweet from Max Moroff, who played in the Little League World Series (2005), got me all in the feels:
And if you can still see through the tears…er, dust that got in your eye after that, Moroff received special honors during the day – his little league jersey.
He also had the honor of catching the ceremonial first pitch – which was a fabulous relay from a member of all teams participating in the 10-day classic:
Next weekend is the officially-sanctioned MLB Players’ weekend, where the rules of uniforms are loosened a bit to allow players to show off a little of their personalities. Special uniforms were developed for each team, with players’ nicknames on the back – a wink and a nod to Little League. The Pirates and Cardinals debuted their special unis for this game – and they were spectacular.
Our favorite Greek player showed his appreciation for the throwbacks:
And check out these sweet cleats Chad Kuhl is rocking (specially decorated footwear, compression sleeves and practice t-shirts are all “allowed” for the weekend):
Josh Harrison was sporting very special cleats – autographed by the KIDS he hung out with in Williamsport:
Another look at more of the players’ jerseys:
David Freese showed off his fantastic nickname-jersey as well as the really cool caps debuted for Players Weekend.
(For the story behind his nickname, check out our story on the best nicknames on the Pirates’ roster. Also, I’m thrilled to announce that BobDog now has an Instagram account – @BobDogFreese)
When game time came, some 2,596 kids, coaches and lucky parents filled the stands and settled in for a night few will forget. From the crack of the bat echoing throughout the regulation-size MLB field to Josh Bell’s two-run parking lot homer, the magic of baseball was undeniable in the north central Pennsylvania.
Players showed proper respect for the kids:
That JB homer…still waiting to hear back from Safelite if they had to make any visits to BB&T Park for it…
Ivan “Supernova” Nova minded the bump for the Bucs.
A Little Help From Their Friends…
And while the game seemed to go off without a hitch for the Pirates, who beat the Cardinals 6-3 (to tie the series), that was absolutely due to the team of professionals working in very different environs to ensure it was so. A few of which included Clubhouse Manager Scott “Bones” Bonnett and his staff:
As well as these kids, who helped out the Pirates Social Media folks with a monumental task of connecting fans to the game:
Joe Block braved wildlife not usually found in the broadcast booth of MLB parks to bring the game to radio listeners:
And beloved on-field announcer Joe Klimchak introduced the rosters and kept the crowd entertained throughout the game (as always!).
A Storybook Ending
Through their interactions and just by watching them play in such an intimate setting, it’s very possible that the little leaguers picked up a few things from the pros yesterday. And it’s certain that the Pirates and Cardinals both learned something from the kids. That was on display in the best possible way at the conclusion of the game, when the Pirates emerged victorious. Usually, once the game is over, players head back into their respective clubhouses to celebrate a win or shower off a loss. But last night, the 52 players (each team got to call up a 26th man), their coaches and support staff all headed back out to the field for the time honored Little League tradition of the handshake line.
“Good Game, Good Game, Good Game…”
Good game, indeed.
Logo and photo courtesy MLB and Pittsburgh Pirates