SBD/August 21, 2017/Events and Attractions

Inaugural MLB Little League Classic A Hit; Manfred Wants Game To Return Next Year

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The Pirates defeated the Cardinals 6-3 in the inaugural MLB Little League Classic last night in front of 2,596 spectators at BB&T Ballpark in Williamsport, Pa., with most of the evening "dedicated to the youth," according to Joe Mock of USA TODAY. Members of all 16 of the Little League World Series teams attended the game as "guests" of MLB.  Significant work was done to the playing surface and dugouts of the Single-A New York-Penn League Williamsport Crosscutters to "prepare them for big-league play." A city of tents was "erected behind the ballpark to accommodate clubhouse functions and the media." The crowd "favored the Pirates," who "gave up a home game at PNC Park." The gameday experience "resembled contests in Pittsburgh," as the "popular Great Pierogi Race was run, and the Pirate Parrot and Bucco Brigade entertainment squad mingled with the crowd." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the "interaction between our players and the kids is absolutely unbelievable." Players from the Pirates and Cardinals visited the two ballparks in the Little League complex while World Series games were "being played during the afternoon before the big-league showdown." Grosse Pointe Woods Shores (Mich.) Little League 3B Chase Reinhard, 12, said, "It’s pretty cool. We got to hang out with them this afternoon, and they turned out to be regular people. You think they’re not like us because they’re Major Leaguers, but we saw them play ping-pong and just hang out. And then they sat and watched us play" (USA TODAY, 8/21).

HIGH FIVE! The AP's Travis Johnson noted the Pirates "shook hands on the field as usual following a victory" after the final out of MLB's first regular-season game in Williamsport. In a nod to Little League, both teams then "lined up at home plate and shook hands with each other, throwing in some hugs and high-fives to finish off a feel-good day." Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, "It was one of the highlights of my career." Cardinals manager Mike Matheny added, "Pretty special stuff" (AP, 8/20). Hurdle: "From the time we got off the bus, it was almost like fireworks. Things just kept happening. Things that made you smile. Things that made you happy you were here." Pirates 1B Josh Bell said, "We took a lot of pictures and had a lot of fun. Coupled with this game, it was the complete package." In Pittsburgh, Rob Biertempfel noted players "found ways to connect with the kids that went beyond baseball." Bell: "Really, it was trading Instagram and Snapchats. Nobody came up to me and asked, 'What do you think about my swing?' It was more like. 'Would you follow me on Instagram?'" (TRIBLIVE.com, 8/20). Also in Pittsburgh, Bill Brink writes everything was "different but the playing field." Bell: "It's definitely an awesome experience." Manfred added, "I have to say: Even better than I expected. ... It’s just absolutely phenomenal" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 8/21). ESPN's David Ross said, "The pictures that I've seen today with the interaction between the players and the Little Leaguers is like one of the times I missed playing again, just because of that interaction they're having.” ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian: "They just didn't come here to play a game. They came here to be with the kids.” ESPN’s Karl Ravich noted the engagement between the players and kids "has been off the charts." Ravich: "Anybody that's been asked for an autograph has stopped and signed an autograph.” Ross added, “What I love when I see this is I see the look on their face. The look on the players face and the look on the major league players faces are just in awe of each other" (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 8/20).

Harrison (l) and Bell both praised the Little League Classic shortly after its conclusion
POSITIVE REVIEWS ALL AROUND
: In St. Louis, Derrick Goold writes the game was a "whirlwind experience that seemed to delight" the players as "much as the kids they visited." The Cardinals and Pirates were the "first major leaguers, in the middle of their season, to visit Little Leaguers, at the pinnacle of theirs, and then played for them" at a minor-league ballpark (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/21). The PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE's Brink in a front-page piece writes the game had the "feel of a campaign, or a visit from a foreign dignitary." Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen said, “It’s been a lot of fun.” The "mad rush" from Little Leaguers to meet McCutchen and Pirates 2B Josh Harrison "seemed less campaign or dignitary visit and more rock show." This is "great news for MLB, which hopes to use the event to promote its Play Ball initiative, a multifaceted effort to get and keep kids involved in the game" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 8/21). Also in Pittsburgh, Audrey Snyder wrote, "Everywhere the Pirates looked throughout the day, they were met by youthful enthusiasm and Sharpies." The day was about "giving back and inspiring the next generation of ballplayers." By the looks of it, MLB "got more positive exposure than it could've bargained for" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 8/20). MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez writes the game was a "grand slam" (MLB.com, 8/21). MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince wrote for the Little Leaguers and MLBers both, many "pinch-me bits of perfection ... emanated out" of the game. It was a "daylong outreach effort that went even better than expected." It was an "instant classic, one that MLB is rightly aiming to install as an annual and integral part of the August schedule." Castrovince: "Whatever it takes to make this happen again, make it happen" (MLB.com, 8/20).

GROWING THE GAME: MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark said, “When you have an opportunity to put the future with the current all in the same room at the same time, it turns the current into kids and it gives the future a chance to see what could be. It’s been fantastic to watch the fans interact with the youngsters" (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 8/20). ESPN's Dave Fleming said, "I’m almost speechless [because of] what this means for these kids, for us, for everybody that was a part of it. ... We want it to grow and today was a day to grow baseball.” ESPN's Kyle Peterson: "How better could you grow this game than to give these kids the experience they did today? They’re going to go tell their brothers, their buddies, their sisters. I mean the stuff they experienced today and they will tonight are honestly the stuff you dream about” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 8/20).

BRINGING IT BACK? Castrovince reported Manfred made "enthusiastic remarks" about the possibility of bringing the game back to the LLWS in '18 and beyond. Manfred: "Hopefully we'll continue to play here and it will become an annual event. My expectation is that if we do it again, we would use different teams" (MLB.com, 8/20). Manfred added, “We’re focused on next year one step at a time. We’re talking to the players association. We have some details to workout but I’m really hopeful we’ll be back here. I just think the partnership with the Little League and making this a regular event would be great for us” (“Cardinals-Pirates,” ESPN, 8/20). Meanwhile, Manfred said the "original idea" for the game came from MLB COO Tony Petitti. Manfred: "He had this idea that it would be great to take baseball to places that mattered to the game, but where we didn’t ordinarily play big league games." Manfred: "I said, 'Tony, this is a great idea, but I don’t know about this.' It was a real fixer upper and they’ve done a fantastic job. I can’t believe how good it looks” ("Cardinals-Pirates," ESPN, 8/20).
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