MLB Little League Classic to celebrate youth baseball during LL World Series
Jenifer Langosch and Adam Berry | @LangoschMLB | March 9th, 2017
JUPITER, Fla. -- Mike Matheny nearly made it to Williamsport, Pa., as a Little League catcher on an Ohio team that advanced deep into the qualifying rounds. Yet the trip that he missed then is one he's going to get in 2017, as the Cardinals and Pirates are moving their Aug. 20 game to Williamsport to coincide with the Little League World Series.
Major League Baseball announced the change of venue on Thursday in conjunction with ESPN, which will air the game on its Sunday Night Baseball (7 p.m. ET) telecast. This announcement comes one year after MLB unveiled plans for a regular-season game to be played on a military base. That happened July 3, when the Braves and Marlins faced each other at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"Major League Baseball's greatest responsibility is to ensure that today's youth become active participants in our game as players and fans," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "The 'MLB Little League Classic' exemplifies our entire sport's commitment to building a stronger connection between young people and the National Pastime. Our players will honor the great tradition of the Little League World Series and create lifelong memories for the Little Leaguers, their families and the city of Williamsport. I thank the Pirates and the Cardinals, Little League Baseball, [Pennsylvania] Governor [Tom] Wolf, the Crosscutters, the City of Williamsport and ESPN for helping us organize an unforgettable weekend."
The Aug. 20 game falls at the end of a four-game series between the Pirates and Cardinals. The first three games will be played at PNC Park. Fans who have already purchased tickets for the Aug. 20 game are eligible for a refund. The Pirates will serve as the home team in Williamsport, which is situated approximately 165 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
"We could not be more excited to play in Williamsport in front of thousands of enthusiastic Little League players and their families," Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said. "It is sure to be a rewarding experience for our players and staff, and I am sure it will bring back many fond memories of playing youth baseball. This game speaks to the Commissioner's commitment to the growth of the game and our collective outreach to the next generation of baseball players and fans."
"This is a wonderful opportunity for both of our teams and the game of baseball to showcase the way baseball links generations," added Bill DeWitt Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of the Cardinals. "Our national pastime is something that brings families together, and this game in Williamsport is a great way to showcase that for baseball fans all across our country."
Though the game will help celebrate what's going on at the Little League World Series, it will not take place at the main stadium on the Little League World Series complex. That's because Howard J. Lamade Stadium is two-thirds the size of a professional field.
Instead, the game will take place in nearby BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, which will have a capacity of approximately 2,500 after renovations are completed in June. The ballpark is home to the New York-Penn League's Williamsport Crosscutters, a Phillies affiliate, and is the second-oldest ballpark in the Minor Leagues.
For Pirates infielder Jordy Mercer, the location is significant, as it was the site of his first professional appearance.
"You always remember where your first game was, who you faced or whatever it might be. I know my first game was at Williamsport, so it was a pretty neat deal," Mercer said. "I think it's good for the kids, especially with the Little League World Series going on at that time. Why not have them come over and watch us play?"
They will, according to MLB. And not only will Little League participants be in attendance for the big league game, but players from both the Cardinals and Pirates will attend Little League World Series games earlier in the day. Doing so will serve "as a unified demonstration of their passion and commitment to helping grow the game at the youth level," MLB announced.
Lynn was a pitcher and first baseman on the 1999 Brownsburg (Ind.) Little League team. Grichuk went twice (2003, 2004) with the Lamar (Texas) National Little League team. In 2004, his Lamar team finished in third place.
"When I found out about [this upcoming game], it brought back a lot of memories," Grichuk said. "I remember playing in front of so many fans. It was a dream to play there."
It was a dream for Matheny once, too. Now, he'll get to experience the event from a unique perspective.
"I think it's a good mesh with the roots of this game and all the excitement built around the Little League World Series," Matheny said. "I remember watching it as a kid myself trying to qualify for it and thinking that would be a big deal."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.