MLB Little League Classic worked well, so try it again
Who said Bowman Field was a pitchers’ park?
Josh Bell and Jedd Gyorko didn’t seem to think so with their home runs in the first two innings.
Who said Bowman Field couldn’t host a Major League Baseball game?
Plenty, and there was reason to be skeptical that a 91-year old minor-league ballpark in a low lying area near the Susquehanna River and Route 15 was a good idea.
Who said it worked so well it should be done again?
Since MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t explicitly say that, let me do it for him. And let me do it on behalf of those holding the 500 tickets MLB allocated to residents of residents of Lycoming County for a chance to join Little League World Series players and their families.
Come back again soon, guys.
“I’d expect to do it again, but maybe use different teams,” said Manfred, saying the Phillies made sense because the Williamsport Crosscutters here are their short-season single-A team. Manfred also said other teams expressed interest and so did some players, as the majors has a handful of LLWS alums.
The 2017 MLB Little League Classic happened not only because MLB field guru Murray Cook transformed the Bowman Field playing surface up to MLB standards thanks in part to money from both MLB and the state, but because Manfred has made youth engagement a priority and found a willing partner in Little League. It’s also the kind of special event that Manfred envisions having 2-3 times a year, like the 2016 game at Fort Bragg.
And when the 2018 MLB schedule comes out in a few weeks before the regular season ends, we might see another one set here for next August.
If there’s no game scheduled at that point, look for east coast teams wrapping up homestands when the LLWS would be played, likely Aug. 16-26. Manfred said a few unspecified details would need worked out before he’d commit to a repeat.
If not the Phillies, then the Yankees, Mets, Orioles, Nationals and Indians are close enough to make this work from the logistical standpoint of coming by for one game at the end of a home series like the Pirates and Cardinals did Sunday.
But the rest of it could be the same. Build the Crosscutters’ New York-Penn League schedule to allow for a week to restore the temporary fixtures in the parking lot, from the clubhouse tents to the production trailers.
Put the 16 Little League teams in their 16 different-colored uniforms in the box seats down low. Let those players reach for balls and prizes between innings. Let players like Josh Harrison get LLWS player autographs on cleats and wear them in a game.
Have more happy reunions like the one earlier Sunday in the Little League players’ cafeteria, when Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk remembered his team uncle Mick Cioffi from his appearance as a Texas Little Leaguer in 2003-04.
Mob Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for autographs and photos so it takes him 10 minutes to reach his seat at Lamade Stadium upon arrival earlier in the day to watch the Little Leaguers play.
Bring back ESPN for another Sunday night game so the nation can see the rest of Williamsport’s aerials. Have more clean weather to let the schedule stand as planned, though something worse than Saturday night’s two-hour lightning delay was the kind of last-minute snag that could ruin it all.
Find a lasting name for those watching for free from the hill sloping away from Route 15, but with an obstructed distant view over the left-field foul line. That spot’s best sports connection before Sunday was being where people line up to watch NASCAR team haulers drive from Pocono to Watkins Glen.
The Route 15 rooters? Those on the road to the big leagues? The hill people? There’s time to figure this out for the Bowman Field version of the Wrigley Field rooftop clubs and print up T-shirts.
And then, do what the Pirates and Cardinals did after the game: shake hands like they were 12.
“Both teams talked about it, both teams signed off on it, and I thought it was kind of unique,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, adding he wouldn’t want that 162 games a year.
But for one night? Do it all again.
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.