Little League teaches MLB players a big lesson

Courtesy of Getty Images/Patrick Smith | Pittsburgh and St. Louis high-five after their contest, a tradition still employed in youth sports today.
Courtesy of Getty Images/Patrick Smith | Pittsburgh and St. Louis high-five after their contest, a tradition still employed in youth sports today.

Bryanna McDermott | Assistant Photo Editor

The spectacle is viewed by millions at home annually on ESPN, in-person at the beautiful complex in Williamsport and even inside clubhouses across Major League Baseball.

This year, the bright colors and big smiles that have become synonymous with Little League Baseball were adopted by MLB for both the Little League Classic and MLB’s Players’ Weekend, which taught the big leaguers a lesson about having fun.

The Little League Classic, held on Aug. 20 at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, featured the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sacrificed a home game at PNC Park to have the opportunity to play in Williamsport, and the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

But it was more than just a game.

Players from both Major League teams spent the day with the Little Leaguers. They exchanged hats and autographs, took selfies and, of course, watched the day’s Little League ball games both in the stands and high up on the hill overlooking Howard J. Lamade Stadium amidst thousands of fans.

The MLB teams, usually restricted by a tight uniform policy, donned new threads of bright yellows and bold reds, similar to what the Little Leaguers tend to wear. Players were allowed to have customized cleats and bats, wore ‘Thank You’ patches and zany-patterned socks and the backs of their jerseys featured nicknames.

It was a sneak peek of what fans would see during Players’ Weekend on Aug. 25-27.

Fans got to see a different side of the professional athletes that they watch on their TVs. It was a glance into the unique personalities of millionaire ballplayers that often get overshadowed.

Ross Stripling, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, took to the mound wearing quite the jersey. He joked on Twitter: “Today I started a Major League Baseball game with ‘Chicken Strip’ across my back. Dreams do come true people!”

Eric Sogard of the Milwaukee Brewers wore cleats painted by his daughters, Saydee, three, and Knix, one.

In Williamsport, Pirates’ third baseman Josh Harrison played ping pong with kids, and Cardinals’ outfielder Tommy Pham bought 200 snow cones for the Little Leaguers.

When the Pirates and Cardinals went head-to-head for the Little League Classic, television viewers enjoyed a broadcast equipped with microphones that had been attached to the players’ bats and gloves. The crack of the bat and the pop of the catcher’s mitt gloving a speeding fastball were crisp enough to give any baseball fan goosebumps.

While the events might have struck out with the older generation of fans who want a more structured league focused on playing the game, it was an amazing opportunity to reel in a younger audience.

The vast majority of kids today aren’t content with a traditional, slow-moving ball game. The league needs to have these fun events more frequently and welcome bright personalities in order to hold kids’ attention in a world where highlights are celebrated on Twitter instantaneously.

That’s why fans in Williamsport are greeted by lovable mascots, rain-delay hat stacking and lots of dancing. It’s more than just baseball; it’s about having fun and creating a fan-friendly environment.

To those annoyed with colorful uniforms: Let’s remember that these are grown men making millions of dollars playing a sport that they first fell in love with as children.

These Little Leaguers don’t receive big paychecks. Instead, they are paid in friendship, smiles and amazing experiences, which are several key foundations found at the basis of sport.

They work their hardest to potentially achieve their dreams of making it to the big leagues themselves.

And, if they do, hopefully they’ll remember how to have fun and to love the game as much as they do now.

It’s a big lesson to learn from some Little Leaguers.