Nationals and Phillies are kids for a day, mingling among Little Leaguers

Bryce Harper stretched his left arm and flashed goosebumps to Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber — just a trio of Philadelphia Phillies who were exhilarated Little League World Series fans for a moment, not high-priced sluggers in a pennant race.

The Phillies raised their arms in celebration when Media, a suburb of Philadelphia, rallied and briefly kept its championship dreams alive.

Hey, just like the Phillies last season, Media fell just a bit short of winning its World Series.

But it was mostly a day full of joy Sunday around Williamsport, the Phillies and Washington Nationals acting like kids again as they mingled with Little League stars from around the globe at the site of the pinnacle of youth baseball.

Joey Meneses gave kids from his native Mexico Nationals hats. Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs let Little Leaguers autograph the white 21 on the back of his red jersey. Canadian Rob Thomson walked into the stands and gave a managerial pep talk to the kids from Canada. Phillies shortstop Edmundo Sosa shoved his bat through the netting to one boy.

A group of Nationals tossed balls to the team from Puerto Rico. Nationals first baseman Dominic Smith grabbed a hunk of flattened cardboard and took flight for the traditional slide down the outfield hill outside the Little League World Series stadium.

No errors here at the Major League Baseball Little League Classic. 

Each player seemed determined to out-fan-friendly the next, with Nationals and Phillies signing countless autographs, tossing Wiffle Balls to kids, snapping selfies and otherwise having a ball hours before first pitch.

“Just the energy that they get from the kids, I think it takes them back to their past when they were that age,” Thomson said. “I’m sure some of them were like me, when they had a game that night, you wake up and put your rubber spikes on. Maybe you put your uniform on extra early. That’s what being a kid is all about.”

The end of August traditionally means the start of school is around the corner.

Phillies Bryson Stott and Weston Wilson were ready — with lumber painted like a No. 2 pencil. Philadelphia’s bat rack looked more like cars on pit road before a NASCAR race, with most bats sporting a different paint scheme. Alec Bohm held one painted with Liberty Bells and “I Love This Place” painted in four different bells, a nod to his infamous “hate this place” quote from last season.

Harper used a bat decorated with the Phanatic’s green image, the team’s mascot momentarily confused for a Spongebob bat by ESPN announcer David Cone.

Wilson, who played 706 games in the minors before he homered in his first big league at-bat, showed off the pencil design on his 34-by-31¼-model bat in the cramped clubhouse. Wilson said he “absolutely” would use the bat in a pinch-hitting role.

Wilson envied the 12-year-olds who got live out a dream at the Little League World Series.

“Growing up, it was something I wanted to do,” he said. “I played Little League one year, and we went to some tournament to try and advance and possibly get here.”

The 31-year-old Meneses, out of Culiacán, Mexico, was gifted a LLWS pin from his native team.

“I just tried to tell them, don’t get scared,” he said. “I know you guys are going to be nervous, never seen so many cameras and ESPN, the fields are super nice. I just tried to tell them about being calm. It’s the same baseball. You’re trying to do your job like normal.”

After playing Saturday at Nationals Park, the Nationals and Phillies took a 30-minute flight and were greeted in the morning at the airport by smiling Little Leaguers. Both teams rode the bus with Little Leaguers to watch the series. Washington and Philadelphia later made a short ride to Historic Bowman Field, which opened in 1926, for Sunday’s finale of a three-game series.

The Little League Classic one of MLB’s experiments to try and attract new fans — and re-ignite the passion of lapsed ones — through offbeat settings, such as games this year in London. It might be working. MLB says national and local TV viewership for teens ages 12-17 is up 11% from last year and noted that 86% of people ages 18-24 and 25-34 said they are more likely to watch MLB games due to the rules changes. Attendance is booming and 2,366 fans were set to pack Bowman Field.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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