Most baseball fans dream of meeting their big-league heroes, but not many get to do it. At the 2018 Little League Baseball® World Series in Williamsport, Pa., Major League Baseball’s Play Ball Park helps to make that dream a reality.
The National League East rival New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies arrived in Williamsport on Sunday in preparation for the second annual MLB Little League Classic at Historic Bowman Field. But before the teams squared off, they had a chance to hang out at the Little League International Complex. Players interacted with the Little Leaguers®, watched the games, and signed autographs for fans.
Just down the hill from Howard J. Lamade Stadium, MLB set up Play Ball Field, which includes a tent where children could experience a unique virtual reality (VR) Home Run Derby Stadium. Also at Play Ball Field, a small field complete with batting cages, gives children of all ages a chance to take batting practice using whiffle ball equipment.
Throughout the day on Sunday, Little League fans interacted with MLB umpires, executives, and even some of the visiting players before they headed into Williamsport for the game that was featured on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
Major League umpire Gerry Davis also was on hand and shared his wealth of umpiring insight to the participants. An umpire in MLB since 1982, Mr. Davis currently the second-most tenured umpire in Major League Baseball, trailing only Joe West. He has umpired in five World Series, and now he brings his wisdom to the Little League World Series. During last year’s World Series, Mr. Davis became the first umpire to officiate a Little League Baseball World Series game and Major League Baseball game on the same day.
“I have been involved with Little League for a while now, and I always say, ‘There’s nothing little about Little League,” said Mr. Davis. “The organization is a first-class operation with everything it does and it’s so much fun to be a part of.”
Mr. Davis is happy to interact with the Little Leaguers from all over the world, as he feels he can provide young players with a valuable perspective once they put a face to the men in blue.
“Normally we’re just the bad guys out there,” Mr. Davis said with a chuckle. “When people realize that we’re just like them, and are working hard at do our job, it puts a human aspect to it.”
Later in the day, Those at Play Ball Field got two special visitors. Mets’ infielders Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith stopped by and surprised a few children by throwing some batting practice, while cheering them on and offering pointers along the way.
“It was awesome,” said Mr. Neil. “It was always a dream of mine to make it here and I never got to, so just being here around the players is outstanding.”
Much of the amazing work being done by MLB Play Ball and Little League can be credited to the MLB’s Vice President of Youth Baseball and Softball Development, David James. Mr. James, a native of Williamsport, has a long history with Little League Baseball. He worked as Little League’s East Region Assistant Director, as well as the Director of Urban Initiative and Challenger Program from 1998-2008, before joining Major League Baseball. As the Senior Director of the MLB (Return Baseball to Inner Cities) RBI Program, Mr. James has worked tirelessly to expand the opportunities for communities to support youth play baseball.
“Little League is the icon, the institution of youth baseball, and with everything we’re trying to do with Play Ball …It’s a natural fit” said Mr. James. “The connection between Little League and MLB is reinforced by this wonderful, unique experience during the Little League World Series; and it makes me glad to be a part of it.”