WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – What’s the best advice you received as a Little Leaguer?
“See ball; hit ball,” Josh Bell responded to the question on the newly installed video board at Historic Bowman Field. “That was my philosophy.”
Rather than giving said advice to the Little Leaguers that “JB” met today, Bell shared photos from Instagram and Snapchat with the team from New Jersey that he met. However, it’s appropriate that, while celebrating the spirit of the game at the Little League Classic on Sunday night in Williamsport, Bell’s theories on hitting were being executed at the highest level.
Josh Bell went 2-for-4, including a first inning monster home run to right center field that gave the Pirates an early 3-0 lead over the Cardinals. Bell drove a 1-0 pitch from Cardinals starter Mike Leake well over the fence, scoring Josh Harrison. He also had a 2-RBI single in the third inning to expand the Pirates’ lead that they would inevitably never relinquish.
“We’re in the third week of August, and this man is playing games that he’s never played before,” Hurdle said about Bell. “His level of intensity and level of work… he’s a maturing player. I thought he was going to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup. We’re hitting him in cleanup against right-handers, and the right-handed swing has gotten better. His overall game has found a good, competitive place at this level.”
In his last eleven games, Bell has gone 13-for-33 with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, and 13 RBIs. He said that his game has improved recently thanks to a conversation with David Freese, who helped Bell with his approach at the plate.
“I’m focusing on the ball over the middle of the plate,” Bell said. “It’s something I talked to Freese about almost a month and a half ago, and it has really turned things around for me. I’m sitting middle-middle for the large majority of my at-bats. When pitchers make mistakes, I turn around and crush them.”
Bell said that he has been working on simply protecting the zone and working off of that approach. He realized that he may have been guessing or trying to jump on specific pitches, and now, he is looking for that mistake pitch.
Among major league rookies, Bell ranks first in hits (109), triples (six), walks (51), and games played (121). He is second in RBIs (72), doubles (22), extra base hits (48), and total bases (201). Bell only trails Andrew McCutchen on he team with a .833 OPS. Tonight marked the fourth time in Bell’s young career where he recorded four RBIs in a game.
Overall, the experiences of the day were all positive for Bell, who commended Major League Baseball on their endeavors.
“It was cool, beginning to end,” Bell said. “From the moment we stepped off that plane to sharing the ride back to their stadium complex and hanging out with the kids. We took a lot of pictures and had a lot of fun. Coupled with this game, it was the complete package. There are kids all around the world playing this game that we are fortunate enough to play as adults. It was an awesome experience.”
IVAN NOVA TURNS IN “GRITTY” PERFORMANCE
Ivan Nova went 5.2 innings and allowed three earned runs on eight hits, and Clint Hurdle described Nova’s performance as “gritty”.
“I thought it was a gritty performance,” Hurdle said. ” It was good to see him end up on the right side.”
Nova didn’t walk any batters and struck out five. He retired eight batters with three pitches or less.
He did give up a second inning home run to Jedd Gyorko after the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the first; however, with runners on second and third and no outs in the fourth, Nova dug deep and found something to get out of the jam unscathed.
“When we were looking at second and third with no outs, he found it,” Hurdle said. “All of a sudden, the arm speed was quick again. The fastball/changeup combination was good. He had better finish and life through the zone. He had better sink. The changeup helped, and the spin of the curve ball helped.”
Nova said that he didn’t panic in the fourth inning, sticking to their plan even in a tough situation.
“I wanted to stay ahead and make the pitches that I needed,” Nova said. “We stuck to our plan.”
With everything going on around him, it would’ve been easy to lose focus. Nova said that he had no choice but to stay focused because he had a job to do today.
“Today was a great day and a great event, and hopefully those kids can take something out of it,” Nova said, “But, I had a job to do and had to stay focused. We’re still fighting, and we were trying to beat the guys that are still ahead of us. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pitch in a day like today.”
“IT’LL BE ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF MY CAREER.”
Hurdle said that once the game started tonight, it was back to being an important in-division game that his team needed to win. However, he still was able to take it the atmosphere and excitement of the moment.
“It was refreshing every once in a while to look up in the stands and see the kids,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle, a man of many quotes today, went on to describe his overall experience of the MLB Little League Classic event.
“The handshakes that I got today from people. The boys and girls. The faces. The smiles. The thank you’s. The thank you’s are heart-felt and real. I heard kids saying, ‘can you believe that Andrew McCutchen watched us play today, and we’re going to go watch him play tonight?’ I don’t think there is another sport that can do this the way we did it today. We watched the kids play, then they came and watched us play. I think it’s significant. I was happy and humble to be a part of it. I’m very grateful that I got to experience it.
“It’ll be one of the highlights in my career.”
PLAYERS MAKE RETURN TRIP TO WILLIAMSPORT
Historic Bowman Field was a brand new place for the majority of players taking the field tonight. However, several Pirates were making their return to the newly renovated facility tonight for the Little League Classic.
Andrew McCutchen played 13 games for the High-A Williamsport Crosscutters in 2005 while they were still an affiliate of the Pirates. As a newly drafted 18-year-old, McCutchen hit .346 with the Crosscutters in 52 at-bats. Interestingly, Cutch would eventually become the first Major League Baseball MVP to play for the franchise.
Jordy Mercer played his fourth professional game on the road at Historic Bowman Field in 2008 while playing with the State College Spikes. Jacob Stallings, the Pirates’ 26th man tonight, made his professional debut in Williamsport against the Crosscutters while playing for the Spikes, as well. Jose Osuna, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Adam Frazier also played road games here in Williamsport while in the Pirates’ farm system.
“It definitely looks a little different from the changes they made,” Frazier said. “Stands look a little different. The dugouts are a little different. They brought in a Jumbotron and lights. It’s awesome.”
On the coaching side, Clint Hurdle managed the Williamsport Bulls, a New York Mets farm team, in 1991. Bench Coach Tom Prince managed the Crosscutters for two seasons (2005-06) while they were a farm team in the Pirates’ system.
* Starling Marte reached base in his first two at-bats this evening, making it six straight multi-hit games for the Pirates’ left fielder. On August 13th, Marte was hitting .239 for the season. Only a week later, Marte’s average is up to .278.
* The Pirates got two hits apiece from each of their first four batters in the lineup. Marte, Harrison, McCutchen, and Bell strung together four straight hits, all singles, in the third inning to help give the Pirates a 6-2 lead.
* Pirates Hall-of-Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski made his professional debut with Williamsport in 1954 after signing with the Pirates that year. He played in 207 games with Williamsport between 1954 and 1955.
* Tonight was the first home game played by the Pirates at a neutral site since 9/22/1890, when they played the New York Giants in Wheeling.