Kids Again: Red Sox, Orioles Little Leaguers Cardboard Race

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Nathan Eovaldi and John Schreiber used their sliders without throwing a throw. Boston Red Sox pitchers grabbed their flattened pieces of cardboard and took to the skies for the traditional slide down the outfield hill outside the Little League World Series stadium.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde hit the hill and ran one-on-one against his 14-year-old son in the cardboard challenge.

“I wasn’t sure,” Hyde said with a laugh. “But once I saw people coming down I wanted to try. You never know when you’ll be back.

Oh, and Hyde won the father-son contest.

“A little more mass coming down,” he said.

On a sunny Sunday morning, the Baltimore Red Sox and Orioles acted like kids again as they mingled with Little League stars from around the world at the site of the pinnacle of youth baseball.

A few hours later, it was time to throw away 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 dashboard instead of departure queues.

The heavy rains finally subsided and the Red Sox and Orioles played the Major League Baseball Classic on Sunday night at 2,366-seat Historic Bowman Field. President George W. Bush shook hands with the Orioles players in front of the dugout and then went into the stands to meet the Little Leaguers and their families who made up the crowd.

The 2023 game is already fixed: the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies will play Sunday, August 20 in the sixth edition of the game. The Phillies lost to the Mets in the 2018 game. Nick Pivetta suffered the Phillies loss in that one – and he got the start for the Red Sox on Sunday night.

After playing Saturday at Camden Yards, the Orioles and Red Sox were greeted at the airport Sunday morning 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 the Little League team from his native Puerto Rico “a great experience”. And yes, her baseball cap turned backwards, Cora also dove headfirst onto the cardboard and raced down the hill. He also sat in the back of a makeshift race car with members of the Little League team from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

Most of the Orioles had their Little League pictures in their locker inside the cramped clubhouse of the unaffiliated Williamsport Crosscutters.

Who was this Oriole wearing number 8 taking off for first base in his Pop Warner football cleats after a batting hit?

Cal Ripken Jr?

No, try Orioles outfielder Austin Hays who took the uniform for a test drive while playing Little League in Florida. Hays had no trouble finding the return photo – the original still hangs in her grandmother’s fridge.

Hays said the day was the kind of experience he would have liked growing up. Few kids can say they made it to the Little League World Series. Now they have the added benefit of meeting baseball stars. The lucky few raced against the O’s.

“I made it about halfway. I fell off my piece of cardboard,” Hays said. “The kid I was running with fell off his too. So I ran back up, I jumped on mine and he tried to go down without his, so I think I won by disqualification.

Not all major leaguers were Williamsport rookies. Now, Boston’s game planning coordinator, former Red Sox star Jason Varitek, led Altamonte Springs out of Florida to the United States Championship in 1984. Varitek’s advice to today’s little leaguers are substantially the same as those 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 there. Enjoy being where you are.

Of course, the $7 hot dogs at the concession stand — only a dollar at your local Little League field — and the stacked poker chips during the clubhouse card game showed it was still a major league experience in the city for pint-sized players.

The Little League Classic is MLB’s latest experiment in an attempt to attract new fans – and rekindle the passion of old ones – through quirky 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 tuned in to Fox Sports’ broadcast of the game, the most-watched regular-season baseball game on any network this year.

ESPN aired Sunday’s telecast and promised all the extra features that make the game a more appealing watch for kids. Just like other Sunday night TV shows, the telecast should include a player with a mic to talk to the broadcast booth. There is also a kids broadcast team on ESPN2.

“It’s our job now. We get paid to do it,” Hays said. “But at the end of the day, we were in these kid shoes and we started playing the game because it was fun. Something we loved to do. And that led us here.


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