MLB players’ smiles, fun and joy are all genuine

While donning his red Canada hat, Jose Reyes was fist bumping and signing autographs for the team from Surrey, British Columbia. Earlier in the day, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler traded his Phillies cap for a Europe and Africa hat from a Little Leaguer. Rhys Hoskins couldn’t stop grinning as he showed off his Little Leaguers signed bat to ESPN.

The smiles weren’t manufactured or fake. The laughs weren’t forced and uncomfortable. The joy from the Phillies and Mets players shown yesterday was real and genuine.

Last night playing at Bowman Field and meeting players from all 16 Little League teams wasn’t an obligation. It was a privilege and the Major Leaguers enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s really not an inconvenience. It’s giving back to the sport that we love and the game we played when we were young and I think it’s only positive,” Mets outfielder Michael Conforto said, who played for Redmond North Little League out of Washington in the 2004 Little League World Series.

“It was awesome, especially meeting kids from different countries. That was the most fun,” Phillies outfielder Nick Williams, who played for West Isle Little League out of Galveston, Texas, added. “Their (Australia) coach actually gave me a pin so that was a special moment.”

Many may think that the Major Leaguers wouldn’t genuinely enjoy this experience. Coming to a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania to play at a tiny Minor League ballpark could be seen as a hassle, considering how baseball players are such creature of habits, but the players and even the managers don’t see it that way. They see it as an opportunity to reach out to younger players aspiring to be in their position 10 years from now.

“I thought it was incredible. I thought these guys (Hoskins and Williams) were particularly incredible. Rhys is natural on the bus with all the kids,” Kapler said. “There’s a genuine ‘I’m here with you to spend time with you and get to know you and give you a very good experience’ and there’s the one that is manufactured. What these guys do is just the opposite. We actually are happy to be here and you can tell.

“At one point, I think actually Nick (Williams) was asking if we could stay over there a little bit longer to stay and watch some baseball. We had guys leave the clubhouse here to go back over to the stadium and spend more time. This is what we want to do,” Kapler added. “We know it’s big for baseball, we know that the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball is a hands on game and we’re not going to mess up that opportunity.”

For Hoskins, it just wasn’t about meeting the Little Leaguers and spending the morning over in South Williamsport. It was a return to a ballpark he called home for the summer of 2014. After making his rounds at the Little League complex, which included a stop and meet with Alfred “Big Al” Delia, who became a social media star with his Little League introduction.

“We share a common love, hitting dingers,” Hoskins said.

The Phillies rising star outfielder caught up with an old, yet familiar friend when he returned to Bowman Field.

“He (Rhashan West-Bey) was actually the first guy I saw get off the bus and like he always does, greeting you with a smile and a hug. The Director of Smiles if I remember correctly,” Hoskins said. “Like I said, it jogs a lot of memories. I remember him stretching with us. He had his little routine that he used to do. Just little memories like that stick out. Rhashan is a big part of this organization and this town.”