You know what that means.
Back to School. "Back to School means this whole new level of intensity and pressure, both in baseball and in life," said Littlefield, who returns on Aug. 27 as a senior at Bradley University. "School starts in the middle of the stretch run, and you see articles on all the division and Wild Card races and this scrutiny on everyday performance that you really don't see in any other sport at all, and it's absolutely impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. You start living, dying and breathing the magic number."
Cody Shepard is a Yankees fan in Schenectady, N.Y., and he has one more month of summer vacation.
You know what that means.
"To me, 'Back to School' means the home stretch of the Major League Baseball season and the soon-to-be playoffs, well, maybe not fully," said Shepard, who returns Sept. 4 as a junior at Schenectady High School. "It means getting back into the swing of things at school. Entering a new grade, or maybe a school, meeting up with old friends and getting to know new people, new teachers and a new curriculum that comes along with the new classes."
Behold your leaders of tomorrow.
They are baseball fans. They always are. Every year, kids return to school, and they take baseball back with them because it was a big part of their life in the summer and you don't just leave that behind like foil Dodger Dog wrappers or ninth-inning screams that pierced another magical summer night.
The MLB.com Shop is where many people are going right now for the annual rite of Back to School. It has just about every item you could ever want to take back to school besides your cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla oblongata.
Here are some examples:
Youth Therma Base Premier Jacket. Therma Base technology is windproof and waterproof, with moisture-wicking fabric. It's full-zip with collar, banded cuffs and waistband. Fall is coming soon (sorry), and this is only $69.99.
Backpacks. You will see lots of ballpark promotions coming soon, as clubs always feature Back to School giveaways such as backpacks and binders. In the meantime, you might be one of those families about ready to start checking off a teacher's supply list. It always starts with just the right backpack, and that means making sure it is decorated with your student's favorite team.
Phiten necklaces. Wear what the pros wear. Put one of these titanium bad boys around your neck and you will be a Rhodes Scholar. OK, it doesn't really say that on the Shop page, but there is a fair chance that your favorite player is wearing one of these. It supposedly promotes muscle relaxation, pain and stress relief, fatigue reduction and blood circulation improvement, thus helping prevent injury, but mainly it's just cool.
Deals everywhere. Maybe you noticed that the MLB.com Shop is a saver's paradise right now. There are lots of specials, and with this economy, that matters a lot. Take 25 percent off select Therma Base crewneck fleeces. Buy two caps and get a third free. Spend $50 or more at the Shop and get a 30-day risk-free trial of MLB.TV Premium.
Littlefield said "the most noticeable thing is the jerseys."
The MLB.com Shop has all those, too. The Trading Deadline is always followed by Back to School, and that's a chance to break out the new duds for the peers.
"I go to a school in pretty much the exact middle of Illinois, and it's really unique in that you see Cardinals jerseys, White Sox jerseys and Cubs jerseys come out of the woodworks," Littlefield said. "I've seen guys literally give each other the dirtiest looks you can imagine for seemingly no other reason that the other person is wearing a Cards shirt, and the Cards took two out of three from the Cubs last week.
"I myself have a D-Lee Cubs J-shirt [T-shirt with the jersey design on it] and a couple team-wide type shirts that I wear as often as I can. I'll speed up my laundry cycle if it means getting one of the shirts in before the end of the week. It just seems like school starts and baseball starts meaning more, because all summer everyone is getting gradually more and more excited for the end of the season, and then all of a sudden you get thrown in with a ton of people all feeling the same thing but not necessarily for the same team, and all you hear is people talking about baseball. It's the greatest time of the year, without a doubt."
What is school really like? You remember. Or maybe you don't. Nowadays, students wear Crocs around their dorms and frat/sorority halls. They are 25 percent off right now, and they come complete with team logos.
"This isn't typical of my high school, but in 2003 when 'Bartman' happened, I had a teacher who had been living and dying Cubs his whole life," Littlefield said. "When the Cubs lost, we didn't do a thing in class for two days. I didn't want to, either. That team meant a little too much to me -- I still liked Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, and Mark Prior was looking like the next Dwight Gooden. The loss hurt me, but it crushed the teacher. I still feel bad for the guy. Hopefully, that doesn't happen again."
Meanwhile back East, Shepard is starting to feel it.
"I always get new clothes for the school year, like most kids," he said in an email to MLB.com. "The first item of clothing I always get before every school year is shirts. Not just any ordinary shirt, Yankees shirts. I always hit up one of the local sports stores and get two or three new Yankees shirts that I don't yet own -- whether they be the Old Timers like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, which were added to my wardrobe last year, or the current Yankees like Joba Chamberlain, also added to my wardrobe last year.
"You'll occasionally see kids wearing Red Sox or Mets shirts being this is the Northeast. Lunchboxes aren't so much of a commodity anymore, but you do see kids wearing their favorite team's logo on their backpacks and even frequently on shoes now.
"When you first enter a class you can sometimes get a gauge for what the teacher is interested in. The first classroom I entered in my sophomore year of high school was homeroom, and the teacher had one wall all devoted to the Yankees. There were pictures of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and his son, Alex Rodriguez, and all the other Yankees. My math teacher in eighth grade also dedicated a wall to the Yankees -- she took all the headlines from the papers and had them in one spot of the room, of course only those positive toward the Yankees. By the end of the season, she had run out of room."
This is how it works every year. Kids spend the summer learning the game of baseball. Then they go back to class and learn other stuff.
But they take baseball back with them, often with the assistance of the MLB.com Shop.
"It's an entire new set of things happening in my life," Littlefield said. "New classes, new teachers, often times a new room or apartment I've just moved in to. It's a busy time with so much going on, and it's amazing baseball has time to work its way in, but it always does."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.