Bucs leave Williamsport with new perspective

Bucs leave Williamsport with new perspective

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- In 10 words, Andrew McCutchen summarized the meaning and impact of the Pirates' trip to the inaugural MLB Little League Classic.

"They're kids, man," McCutchen said Sunday afternoon. "You get to be a kid yourself."

The Pirates left the inaugural MLB Little League Classic late Sunday night with a 6-3 win over the Cardinals, a ton of memories and a special place in a historic event for Major League Baseball.

The day began with high-fives at the airport and ended with handshakes at the ballpark. In between, the Pirates spent hours hanging out with Little League players, sharing their stories and hearing others, then they entertained those kids and their families in an unprecedented Major League game near the birthplace of Little League baseball.

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"It's cool to take a step back and realize there's kids all over the world playing this game, and we're fortunate enough to play as adults," first baseman Josh Bell said. "It's definitely an awesome experience."

For Bell, it began with a bus ride, part of a motorcade from the airport to the Little League World Series site, spent talking with young players from Mexico and New England. They weren't asking for advice to fix their swings, Bell said. They didn't talk a lot about baseball at all, in fact.

They traded Instagram posts and Snapchat stories, signed autographs and posed for selfies. They were kids, all of them, no matter how old they were or how many years of service time they had in the big leagues.

"That interaction, in and of itself, you can't get anywhere else," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I don't know if there's another sport that can do this the way we were able to do it today for everybody."

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If only for one afternoon, the Pirates got to be fans of the game. They sat behind home plate and watched every pitch thrown by kids they'd never met before. Veteran catcher Chris Stewart couldn't remember the last game he watched like that without his son involved.

"Just being able to be there and be a fan for once was really cool," Stewart said. "It was fun watching them, reliving what it was like when you were a kid."

But they knew the impact their presence might have on future generations. Walking around the Little League World Series complex Sunday afternoon, you were bound to hear excited words in hushed tones. Is that Andrew McCutchen? Did the Pirates watch our game? We get to watch them play tonight!

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"It's just growing the game. It's the best place to do it, in Williamsport during the Little League World Series," McCutchen said. "It's awesome we're able to come here and play this game. It's all moving in the right direction. It's awesome that it's come to fruition."

Last weekend, Hurdle attended the funeral service of longtime friend and former big leaguer Don Baylor. In every tribute to Baylor's life, Hurdle said, two words came to the forefront: kind and colorblind. The same two traits, he said, were abundantly visible as he toured the Little League World Series complex and surveyed the scene at the historical game the Pirates won Sunday night.

"People being kind. People being nice. People having fun," Hurdle said. "People appreciating other people, the skills of the kids. … I just love the vision that MLB has had. [Commissioner Rob Manfred] has been very vocal about the youth initiative to reignite this generation of kids to plug back into the game, to give them opportunities to move the game forward as they continue to grow and play and, one day, have families and have their own children.

"I think it's an absolutely fantastic vision they had when they put this together."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.