WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Phillies players retraced their baseball steps Sunday night with a trip back to Bowman Field, home of the franchise's New York-Penn League team.
A dozen members of the team's traveling party could trace the infancy of their careers back to a summer spent at the charming, 2,500-seat stadium in the town that is synonymous with baseball, and a colorful, handmade sign welcomed them all to the clubhouse.
Sign inside Philllies clubhouse in Williamsport pic.twitter.com/mTq6dM5ic4— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) August 19, 2018
But, actually, they went back further than the start of their careers and that early step on the professional baseball ladder in this trip through time and the Pennsylvania hills.
The Phillies and Mets spent the day in the town where Little League Baseball was born in 1939. Players from both teams visited the Lamade Stadium, where the Little League World Series is being played, in the late morning. They mingled with young players from all over the world before a game, posed for pictures and signed autographs before heading across town for the second annual Little League Classic, an official National League game.
The trip through time was special for Phillies players for a lot of different reasons.
Scott Kingery, who started the big league game at shortstop for the Phillies, played in the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona in 2006. His brother, Sam, was a teammate and their dad, Tom, was the manager of the club. Sam and Tom also made the trip back to Williamsport for Sunday's event.
"It was pretty surreal," Kingery said. "I walked into the dugout as they were getting ready for a game and one of the Little League players was like, 'Whoa, Scott Kingery.' That's crazy because I remember sitting in that dugout and thinking how cool it would have been for someone to walk in who was playing Major League Baseball.
"It's my first time back. It brought back memories. Not much has changed. There wasn't a lot of stuff I remembered, but as soon as I got back there I kind of remembered everything. It was awesome."
As Kingery spoke inside the cramped clubhouse behind the first base dugout at Bowman Field, he wore a blue Little League cap with a W on it. It was the same cap worn by this year's West Region champs from Honolulu, Hawaii.
Kingery was a member of the West Region championship team in 2006.
Andrew Knapp was not so lucky. His Little League team from Granite Bay, California won the Northern California sectionals but came up just short of winning the West Region in 2003.
Knapp also wore a blue West Region championship cap before Sunday night's game.
"I finally got one," he said. "I didn't get one when I was 11 and I was devastated, so I had to get one."
Knapp paid $25 for his cap.
Kingery laughed when he heard that. He got his cap for free.
"Guess he didn't ask the right guys," Kingery said of Knapp.
Mets third baseman Todd Frazier and outfielder Michael Conforto are also Little League World Series alums.
The Williamsport Crosscutters share the area's baseball spotlight with Little League Baseball. Since 2007, the Crosscutters have been affiliated with the Phillies. They are a short-season Class A team and their season runs from mid-June to the first week of September.
"This was my first taste of pro ball right after I was drafted," said Knapp, who was recalled from Triple A before the game. "The bus rides, playing in front of crowds — for me, they are all great memories. This is awesome and I'm glad to be part of it."
Rhys Hoskins played here in 2014 — before the leg kick that he says changed his career.
Third base coach Dusty Wathan managed here in 2008.
Third baseman Maikel Franco played here in 2011 when he was 18. He and Bob Stumpo, now one of the team's catching instructors, were teammates.
Franco recalled the first game that he and Stumpo played in Bowman Field.
"Opening day, first at-bat, Stumpo hit a home run," Franco said with wide eyes. "I remember it. He was so big, I was like, 'Man, this guy is going to hit a lot of home runs this year.' When the season was over, I looked at the stats — one home run."
Franco chortled as he told the story.
And it was all true, confirmed by Stumpo, the former West Chester University star, himself.
There were a lot of smiles and laughs and good memories leading up to game time.
But at 7 p.m., it was all business. The Atlanta Braves lost earlier in the day, leaving the door open for the Phillies to slip into first place in the NL East. The seats at Bowman Field were filled with happy Little Leaguers done with their work over at the Little League complex, but there was an important big-league ballgame to play.
"We know this is big for baseball and we're happy to be part of it," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of the day and all its festivities. "We know the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball can enhance our game and we're not going to miss that opportunity.
"And then when game time rolls around, I can assure you our guys are still going to be having fun like we always do, but we are going to be taking this responsibility very seriously."