MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Man, did Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association ever knock it out of the park with the fifth MLB Little League Classic Sunday afternoon and evening in Williamsport, Pa.

For the Baltimore Orioles, the game itself was cause enough for celebration as they beat the Boston Red Sox, 5-3, thanks to a bases-loaded double by Jorge Mateo in the eighth inning. It also likely gave much of the country its first look at these new and exciting Orioles on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, as it marked their first game on a primetime national broadcast since 2018.

“We haven’t been on the national stage very often, if at all,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the game. “And to be able to have our guys be seen across the country, the only game that is going, I think it’s a big deal for a lot of our players.”

Certainly, the words Little League and Orioles had been used frequently in the same sentence the past four years, but now, not so much. And if first-timers came away surprised by the new Orioles Way, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was not. He’s been looking up in the standings at the Orioles for approximately a month now, and he certainly understands and appreciates why that is.Top of Form

“In 2018-19, you get to them in the last one-third of the game.” Cora said. “Now they have the lead and the game is almost over. It’s a testament to who they are … They’re really good, and this is just the beginning.”

The game itself was big, but only part of the excitement of the day, as from the moment the Orioles and the Red Sox arrived in Williamsport, they were escorted and surrounded by admiring and protective Little Leaguers.

There were hillslides in centerfield to conquer, a Little League World Series tradition; and most of the Orioles, including their manager and his 14-year-old son, did just that. The Big Leaguers and the Little Leaguers did interviews with each other, traded autographs, hats and tips. The Big Leaguers from both teams not only went down the hill with the Little Leaguers, but mingled with them, sitting in the stands with them during the afternoon Little League World Series games.

ESPN showed Orioles second baseman Rougned Odor playing rock paper scissors with a Little Leaguer behind the dugout during a pitching change of the MLB game. Fans surrounded the first-base dugout to try to get every final-out ball from first baseman Ryan Mountcastle; reliever Dillon Tate made a “fan for life” in a young pitcher from Team Hawaii, and President George W. Bush was given a Home Run Chain.

When the Orioles clinched the final out, catcher Adley Rutschman, clearly the fan favorite of the day as the new face of the Orioles, and closer Félix Bautista stopped their celebration to enjoy the fireworks above centerfield, which brought to mind the wonderful Fourth of July scene from the movie “The Sandlot.” But these were Major Leaguers, not kids, who were jaw-dropped mesmerized by the fireworks. All on national television.

“The game, the atmosphere in the game, it brought back memories of being a kid,” starter Dean Kremer told reporters. “Sometimes in this line of work, it becomes work and you forget that it’s still a game. Today brought that back for a lot of us.”

The Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella said, “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.”

From the moment the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox players, coaches and staff stepped off their buses to find what was waiting for them at the Little League complex in Williamsport Sunday, through an afternoon of visiting, trading caps and autographs and making new friends, through nine innings of tense late-season postseason-race baseball, we could see that to be true on every single one of the Big Leaguers’ faces.

The afternoon, the evening, the entire day and how it happened carried an electric charge with it, even for viewers at home. It was every Little Leaguer’s dream and, from the looks of things, a lot of Big Leaguers’, too.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT