Smiles, elation, wide eyes, excitement and sheer joy are just some of the emotions that can be seen on the faces of the players each August at the Little League World Series.
It is no different this year, and Major League Baseball (MLB) did its part.
Realizing that it needs to strengthen its future fan base in the game and in an effort to reengage kids with love for the sport, MLB is making a conscientious effort to market to kids.
MLB hosted the third annual MLB Little League Classic Sunday night at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, which sits a mere six miles from the Little League Complex.
The 16 Little League teams began play on Thursday and with each team being guaranteed three games, the Little League Classic was strategically positioned perfectly on Sunday before any of the teams had officially played their respective last games.
Bowman was the 34th stadium that I have seen an MLB game in, and the process of attending the game began over a year ago when I reached out to Scott and Kathie (Johnson) Rosenberg to see how I should go about getting into the game. Kathie is a Belle Vernon graduate.
Scott is the Little League International Director of Public Relations while Kathie plays a prominent role with Dugout, the official mascot of Little League.
The Johnson and Hughes families go back three generations and it was Kathie’s parents, Barb, and the late Herb, who first introduced my parents.
No tickets were made available to the public, so Scott said the best route was to secure a media credential through MLB.
Upon arriving at their house Saturday morning, Kathie and I caught up briefly before we made the six-mile commute to the Little League Complex.
When we parked in a private employee lot above the complex, Kathie and I started walking towards the hill to go down to the employee entrance.
Looking down at the complex and seeing Howard J. Lamade Stadium full, I literally stopped to take in the view.
Kathie laughed at me, quipping at how she is so used to seeing it that she forgot it was my first time there!
The view gave me the sense of being at one of those special places, much like my first time to the Final Four, my initial visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Rose Bowl and WrestleMania.
Upon entering the complex, she began to tell me stories about both stadiums and other things that I should experience.
We went under the stadium and into the well, as it is known, at Lamade.
When watching a LLWS game on TV, the well is behind the padding and fencing along the first and third base lines under the stands.
It was there that Scott and I were able to speak briefly before he had to head back out to his duties.
Kathie introduced me to several Little League employees while some of the personalities that came through were Jennie Finch and Julie Foudy, both of whom were friendly beyond belief.
Just before Kathie had to head out for duties, she introduced me to Sara Thompson, the Director of Softball Development for Little League.
After finishing her post-game duties at the conclusion of the Great Lakes and North East game, Sara was gracious with her time and took me around part of the complex.
The second stadium, Volunteer Stadium, is maybe 75 feet behind Lamade, and it was quite the experience to hear fans at both stadiums cheering at the same time.
Seeing Maddy Freking become only the sixth girl to pitch at the LLWS and then strike out a batter was exciting, but the on-field highlight for me was watching Chofu, the Japanese representative, warm up for its 5-0 win over Mexico, thanks to a tip from Sara!
Between warming up by running in unison step for step to its pregame practice where the team made two mistakes in 10 minutes, it was impressive.
Having seen 14 of the 16 teams over the course of 21 hours, the experience at the Little League complex was something that I will always remember and my only regret was not doing it sooner!
After running into a good friend of mine, Jason Shaffer and his daughter Lucy, I took off for Bowman, as it opened for the media at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
After taking part in pregame interviews with Chris Archer and Clint Hurdle in the makeshift workroom for the media, a massive storm hit around 4 p.m. so I went into the stadium.
As the rain continued, I met up with Kathie and a few of her Little League coworkers while ESPN personalities Tim Kurkjian, Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza, among others, prepared one section over from us.
When the weather finally broke, I had a little time to walk around the stadium to get a feel for it as well as head down to the field to talk to some of the players.
Bowman provided an intimate setting for the game, and it was great to see players from different teams and different countries hanging out and having fun during the MLB game.
The Classic provided them with memories that will last them a lifetime, much like the entire weekend experience has done for me.
Seeing Bowman filled mostly with the players from the 16 Little League teams and their families, seeing the kids at Lamade sliding down the outfield hill, seeing the families and fans passionately cheering on their kids and teams and seeing the MLB players interact with the Little League players epitomized what is at the root of the sport, and that is little kids having fun with their friends, win or lose.
And who knows.
Maybe someday, one or two of the players here will be the Major Leaguers coming back to play and sharing their recollections as youngsters.