Long before a call-up to the Major Leagues and even before the bus rides of the Minors, ballplayers cut their teeth on sandlots and Little League fields all across the country. And the pinnacle of these resides in Williamsport, Pa., site of the Little League World Series.
This year, the Pirates and Cardinals will be the latest teams to make a pilgrimage to this mecca of youth baseball. The two will square off on Aug. 20 at BB&T Park at Historic Bowman Field, home of the Williamsport Crosscutters in the New York-Penn League. Though the players may be older, and will have the ability to grow facial hair, the game itself should be the same.
Randal Grichuk certainly knows this, having played (and pitched) for the Lamar Little League team that reached the World Series in 2003 and '04.
Perhaps we'll see a two-out, walk-off grand slam, like Kenny Rix hit in the qualifier last year:
And maybe the pitcher that surrenders it will be too impressed to get upset:
The Cardinals and Pirates game will also prove to be a perfect staging ground. Why? The Little League World Series Championship Game will take place one week later on Aug. 27.
Clint Hurdle knows the atmosphere will be electric. After all, he managed the Williamsport Bills, the Mets' Double-A team in the Eastern League, in 1991. Living in Tom Herr's hunting cabin 15 miles north of town was an amusing anecdote, though.
"I'm well familiar with the Williamsport area," Hurdle said. "I lived about 15 miles north of town in Tommy Herr's hunting cabin in a little town called Trout Run. I spent a lot of time in Bowman Field. It was a Double-A spot for us that year. We had left Jackson, the Binghamton park wasn't finished, we needed to find a free-agent site to play one season. We found Williamsport, and we played in the Eastern League. So I'm very familiar with Bowman Field. That will be a huge draw. Huge draw. Think it's going to be a great night for baseball within that venue to reignite the younger kids that are playing in town. The city is electric that time of year anyway. It should be fun."