The Little League World Series opening ceremonies kicked off on Thursday in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
For the first time in the series’ 71-year history, a Major League Baseball game will be played as part of the annual celebration of youth baseball.
The MLB Little League Classic will be in Williamsport at Historic Bowman Field — home of the Pennsylvania College of Technology Wildcats baseball team.
Twenty members of the college’s team and their head coach will serve as the grounds crew. They are responsible for the field tarp in case of bad weather during the game.
Chris Howard, the college team’s head coach, says it was a “no brainer” to volunteer.
“I had never had a text answered back as quickly as I did that one when I was looking for volunteers. So we had everybody lined up within five minutes,” he said.
Team members are excited, Howard says, even if they don’t end up getting put to work.
“I said I don’t want it to rain, but I said it would be kind of neat if they needed us to get in action and go out there and do this,” the baseball coach said. “But hopefully it stays dry but if it doesn’t, I can tell you the guys will be, they’ll be ready. We’ll do a good job.”
The inaugural game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals will air on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” at 7 p.m. The Pirates are the designated home team.
‘A baseball city’
Howard said the reaction to the MLB game coming to town has been incredible.
“Williamsport is a baseball city,” he said. “The Little League World Series is already an exciting time, but now that you add a Major League game to it, it just jumps that up tenfold.”
Howard says the opportunity originated because MLB’s head field crew was hoping Little League Baseball’s grounds crews might be available. But Little League Baseball officials thought it would be difficult, so they recommended the Penn College baseball team.
The Wildcats have several days of training, and will be on standby at the ballpark all day Saturday in case of rain. They’ll arrive on game day at 7a.m. and help until after the game ends, approximately 11 p.m.
“It’s a good four days where we’re going to be definitely doing a lot of work,” Howard said. “It’s going to be great fun, and we’re going to have probably some of the best seats in the house when it comes to watching this game. So, I can’t even begin to tell you how excited the guys are.”
During the game, the grounds crew will be seated and stationed near the first base dugout.
Bowman Field also is home to the Williamsport Crosscutters, the Philadelphia Phillies Class-A team. It is the second oldest minor league ballpark in the nation.
As part of preparations for the MLB game, the field and the BB&T stadium have been undergoing extensive renovations since the spring. The Wildcats were not allowed on the field and did not have a home field last season.
“We had to play our home games at other places because the renovations were going on,” Howard said. “So we lost this season, at least a home season, because of it. But the renovations that were made to the new field — I mean just everything — believe me, it was worth it.”
The stadium capacity is now 2,500 and projected to be the smallest venue to host a regular season MLB game in history.
Updates include modernizing the stadium and putting in an elevated viewing deck, with its own concession stands and bars, down right field.
“If somebody was alive now who was a hundred years ago, I doubt they would recognize that stadium whatsoever,” the head coach said.
He says this will be the first time his players will get to see their updated home field.
‘Once in a lifetime’
Junior Cole Hofmann, from Newtown in Bucks County, says volunteering when the Pirates host the Cardinals is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.
“I’m excited to see the new looks of the field and just kind of see the professional game, like, right here on our field.”
The 19-year-old, who played Little League, says it’s awesome Major League Baseball is connecting with youth baseball.
“Especially since all the people come from all around the world,” the second baseman said. “They’re bringing two major league teams in to play locally and give maybe the kids and families the opportunity to come see something like this.”
Teams from all 50 states and more than 80 countries compete to make it to the Little League World Series.
As part of an MLB youth outreach, Pirates and Cardinals players will attend Little League games during the day on Sunday, and Little Leaguers and their families from the 16 teams will attend the MLB game in the evening.
Penn College’s current roster includes four players from Southeastern PA and one from New Jersey.
The team has been previously involved in with Little League World Series, including the Little League picnic on campus, taking Little Leaguers to the parade and having a Wildcats parade float.
Without serving as the grounds crew, the Penn College players probably wouldn’t have a way to see the historic game in person. Tickets were distributed to the Little League World Series players and their families, as well as, through a restricted ticket sweepstakes for Lycoming County residents.
Senior Nick Perna, from Frenchtown along the Delaware River in central New Jersey, is excited to help out during a MLB game.
“Our assignments are if it starts raining and the umpire gives the signal for the tarp, then we’ve got to put it on the field; and then during batting practice, they might have us take care of the screens, put the screen on and off the field, maybe rake the warning track and stuff like that.”
The third baseman says the team still needs practice synchronizing and, ironically, working as a team.
“Basically, what we worked on was like unrolling the tarp and getting it onto the field,” the 21-year-old said of their first day of training. “I guess we have a lot of practice to do from today at least because it didn’t look too pretty, but we’re getting it. And we’ll have it down for Sunday.”
The weather forecast is mostly sunny for game day.
Hofmann and Perna say if they weren’t at the game, they’d mostly likely be watching it on TV.