WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Nathan Eovaldi and John Schreiber used their sliders without throwing a pitch. The Boston Red Sox pitchers grabbed their hunks of flattened cardboard and took flight for the traditional slide down the outfield hill outside the Little League World Series stadium.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde hit the hill and raced head-to-head against his 14-year-old son in the cardboard challenge.
“I wasn’t sure,” Hyde said with a laugh. “But once I saw people going down, I wanted to try it. You never know when you’re going to be back.”
Oh, and Hyde won the father-son competition.
“A little more mass rolling down,” he said.
On a sunny Sunday morning, the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles acted like kids again as they mingled with Little League stars from around the globe at the site of the pinnacle of youth baseball.
Hours later, it was time to trash the soggy cardboard. The Red Sox and Orioles could have used a raft to get around the rainy field. Weather warning signs flashed on the scoreboard instead of the starting lineups.
The heavy rains subsided eventually and the Red Sox and Orioles played the Major League Baseball Little League Classic on Sunday night at 2,366-seat Historic Bowman Field. President George W. Bush shook hands with Orioles players in front of the dugout and later went into the stands to meet the Little Leaguers and their families that made up the crowd.
The Red Sox were set to send right-hander Nick Pivetta (9-9, 4.28 ERA) to the mound against Orioles righty Dean Kremer (5-4, 3.58 ERA) in the rubber match of the three-games series. Both teams are competing for the final AL wild-card spot.
After playing Saturday at Camden Yards, the Orioles and Red Sox were greeted Sunday morning at the airport by smiling Little Leaguers and they signed autographs — yes, even the 12-year-olds signed jerseys and balls for the big leaguers — and watched some of the early Little League World Series games.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora called a visit with his native Puerto Rico’s Little League team “a great experience.” And yes, his baseball cap turned backward, Cora also dove head-first onto the cardboard and sailed down the hill. He also sat in the rear of a makeshift race car with members of the Little League team out of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
Most of the Orioles had their Little League photos at their locker inside the cramped clubhouse of the non-affiliated Williamsport Crosscutters.
Who was that Oriole wearing No. 8 taking off for first base in his Pop Warner football cleats after a swing of the bat?
Cal Ripken Jr.?
Nope, try Orioles outfielder Austin Hays who gave the uniform a test drive as a kid playing Little League in Florida. Hays had no trouble finding the throwback photo — the original still hangs on his grandmother’s refrigerator.
Hays said the day was the kind of experience he would loved growing up. Not many kids can say they reached the Little League World Series. Now, they get the added perk of meeting baseball stars. The lucky few raced against the O’s.
“I made it about halfway down. Fell off my piece of cardboard,” Hays said. “The kid I was racing fell off his, too. So I ran back up, hopped on mine and he tried to go down without his, so I think I won by disqualification.”
Not all the big leaguers were Williamsport rookies. Now Boston’s game-planning coordinator, former Red Sox star Jason Varitek, led Altamonte Springs out of Florida to the 1984 United States championship. Varitek’s advice to today’s Little Leagues is much the same as what he received 38 years ago.
“Enjoy the moment, enjoy the atmosphere, trade pins,” Varitek said as he headed into Sunday’s game. “Meet other players from other countries. Leave your best out there. Enjoy being where you are.”
Of course, the $7 hot dogs at the concession stand — only a buck at your local Little League field — and the poker chips stacked during the clubhouse card game showed this was still a major league experience in the town for pint-sized players.
The Little League Classic is MLB’s latest experiment to try and attract new fans — and re-ignite the passion of lapsed ones — through offbeat settings. The last one was a hit — Major League Baseball’s second “Field of Dreams” game last week came straight out of the cornfields of Dyersville, Iowa. More than 3.1 million viewers watched Fox Sports’ broadcast of the game, the most-watched regular-season baseball game on any network this year.
ESPN had Sunday’s telecast and promised all the added features that make the game a more appealing watch to kids. Much like other Sunday night telecasts, the telecast is expected to include a mic’d up player to talk to the broadcast booth. There’s also an all-kids broadcast team on ESPN2.
“This is our job now. We get paid to do it,” Hays said. “But at the end of the day, we were in those kids shoes and we started playing the game because it was fun. Something we liked to do. And it led us to here.”
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