This 2022 season must feel like one endless uphill climb for the Red Sox.
I suspect that’s especially true now that they’re deep into the dog days of August and the hope of salvaging something by earning a wild-card berth dims a little with each loss.
There’s no need to rehash all of the reasons for their Sisyphean woes here. The results might be mixed, but at least they are still fighting to get that rock up the hill.
Maybe what they need now is the boost that might just come from a reminder of why they came to love the game in the first place.
They will get such a chance Sunday night when they play the Orioles in the MLB Little League Classic on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. The game will be played at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., the home of the Little League World Series.
The game offers a bit of synergy for ESPN, which is currently broadcasting the Little League World Series. But the game is not a lark — the Orioles are one of the Red Sox’ competitors for a wild-card berth.
It’s a matchup with real stakes, but also one that offers the players a chance to exhale and revisit their roots in the game.
“It’s such a unique environment,’’ said Karl Ravech, who will call the game for ESPN along with analysts David Cone and Eduardo Perez. “As broadcasters, you are sitting among the people that are there, and it’s a small crowd [capacity is approximately 2,300] made up of mostly kids participating in the Little League World Series and their families. So that makes it different. The ballpark is different. The whole thing has a different feel.
“This is about the Little Leaguers, but to me, it’s also the Major Leaguers who all played baseball at ages 10, 11, and 12 and ended up with those dreams of being a big leaguer coming true. It’s amazing that they’re doing what they’re doing, and it all started back then. This is a reminder of that time. It’s the connection between the past and their current status as Major League players. I think it will mean a lot to them to play there.”
The MLB Little League Classic is a relatively new event, debuting in 2017 as a way to attract younger fans and reinforce a commitment to grassroots baseball. Like the “Field of Dreams” game on Fox, it’s a satisfying television product that emphasizes the most appealing aspects of the sport.
Before the game begins, the players sit in the stands for the 11 a.m. Little League World Series game, which will also be broadcast by Ravech, Cone, and Perez. In the inaugural game five years ago, Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham — now with the Red Sox — and teammate Carlos Martinez bought more than 200 snow cones for Little Leaguers in the stands.
“Major League players relate to kids better than they do most adults,’’ said Ravech. “They just do. They love to speak the language of baseball with the kids and do nice things for them. Nobody’s grilling them about anything. It’s pure. I think somebody once asked Chris Archer when he was here, ‘Are you the same Chris Archer who keeps giving up home runs?’ Not how we would phrase it, but that’s how a kid would phrase it to him. That’s what’s great about it.”
The Red Sox-Orioles matchup was scheduled for 2020, but it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels met last year at Historic Bowman Field, which opened in 1926 but was renovated before the first Classic in ‘17 to meet MLB standards. The field’s dimensions are 323 feet to left field, 411 to center, and 331 to right.
“This ballpark is one of those places where, if you name the town, everyone knows what it is and what it is associated with,” Ravech said. “You say Williamsport, people say Little League World Series. You say Omaha, they said College World Series. Do you say Augusta? They say the Masters.
“Those of us from a certain generation all grew up with ‘Wide World of Sports.’ Baseball was the biggest sport. The Little League World Series had Jim McKay and Brent Musberger calling it, legends among legends. Jackie Robinson was here. Jim Palmer was here. People who have done this event, including myself, know the significance.
“I can’t tell you how many people talk to me about the Little League World Series relative to either the college or the Major League Baseball World Series. It’s a hundredfold more. So it makes all the sense in the world for Major League Baseball to tap into that nostalgia. It’s a great time, and you get a real, meaningful Major League game. Tough to beat that.”