WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The urge to be a kid again is irresistible. It was almost impossible for Red Sox manager Alex Cora to forget the memories forged from a childhood of seeing so many people slide down the hill at Lamade Stadium on TV. When the Red Sox arrived Sunday in Williamsport, Cora’s mind was made up.
“I was like, ‘I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it,’ ” he said.
He did. Then he did it again. Then one more time.
“They made me go down the hill head-first and it didn’t look great,” Cora said, referencing a run that was in heavy rotation before ESPN’s broadcast of Baltimore’s 5-3 victory, “but that was awesome.”
If his 46-year-old body feels it on Monday when the Sox travel back to Boston after a six-game road trip, then so be it.
“I’ll pay the price tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll be very sore, but it was fun.”
Nate Eovaldi and Christian Arroyo were watching from a distance, and they couldn’t help themselves either.
“Once we saw the kids going down, I said, ‘All right, let’s go over there, let’s go test it out.’ Once we got over there, the hill’s a lot steeper than it looks. Climbing up there, you start getting a little tired,” Eovaldi said. “Then, going down, I was flying down there.”
Watching his players take the tumble down the hill, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde admitted he started sweating a little.
“It’s a lot faster than you think,” he said. “After I saw a couple of collisions — and experienced one of my own — I was hoping that we had everybody safe.”
But even he couldn’t resist, racing his 14-year-old son.
“At first, when I looked up, I wasn’t sure,” he said. “But once I saw people going down, I wanted to try it. You never know when you’re going to be back and I’ve seen it on TV for years. So I wanted to have that experience.”
Both the Orioles and Red Sox are among the four teams chasing the three American League wild-card spots currently held by Seattle, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. But the few hours they spent soaking up Williamsport ahead of the Little League Classic tapped into some of the game’s youthful joy.
“I had a blast,” Cora said. “Honestly, you get caught up in 162-plus [games], the grind, spring training. Obviously, the offseason wasn’t a great one, right, with everything that went on. And just to come here and hang out with the kids and see baseball the way we used to see it when we were kids is refreshing. It put a smile on everybody’s face.”
Embracing the day’s fun
The Little League Classic was born in 2017, and the Red Sox were originally scheduled to participate in the 2020 edition before the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped it. Even if the day was a detour, Cora wanted his players to throw themselves into it.
“One of the things that we’ve been telling the guys is it’s going to be different, but you have to enjoy it, you have to embrace it,” Cora said. “And I think they did.”
J.D. Martinez manned the microphone to interview Little Leaguers. Hirokazu Sawamura watched a few innings of the Japan vs. Latin America game. Kiké Hernández watched the Puerto Rico team.
Rafael Devers had a “Kids Say the Darndest Things” moment when one told him he was a Tampa Bay Rays fan.
“I told him to change over to the Red Sox,” Devers said.
Cora made the rounds. He surveyed the team from Italy for their favorite player.
“They went from a lot of Jays players to the Yankees to the Orioles,” Cora said. “They’re in tune with everything that’s going on.”
He took a special sense of pride seeing the Puerto Rico team’s jerseys. Following the 2021 Series, a three-year rotation was established between Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Panama that would give two teams an automatic berth while having one compete through its regional tournament.
Because of the format change, the Puerto Rican team had its country’s name across the chest of its jersey for the first time.
“Just to go there and let them know how important it is to represent our country,” said Cora, whose father created the Little League chapter in his hometown decades ago. “It’s actually the first team from back home that had ‘Puerto Rico’ on their chest. It was usually ‘Caribbean.’ And for them to be the first one, I kind of explained to them what it means to us. It was a great experience.”
He hid nothing from them. It might have been easy to tell the kids about the success of winning the World Series in his first season with the Red Sox in 2018. But it was just as important to be honest with them about the suspension he had to serve in 2020.
“Just be real with them and explain that there’s ups and downs in life but you can get up and keep going,” Cora said. “And hopefully they understand that.”
Another delay for Nate Eovaldi
Eovaldi will not start Tuesday against Toronto. He’s still experiencing the neck soreness that led to him being scratched prior to his scheduled start Thursday against Pittsburgh.
“He hasn’t been able to bounce back,” Cora said.
Eovaldi said he felt good enough to pitch last week, but was playing it safe.
“It’s frustrating,” Eovaldi said. “I feel like it’s going a little slower than we had anticipated it. But I am feeling a lot better every day. It’s just how far can we push it back. We want to make sure that it’s 100 percent, especially going down the road for this home stretch.”
Eovaldi and Cora both hope a stint on the injured list isn’t necessary.
“That’s the main goal is to be able to avoid it,” Eovaldi said. “I think that was the purpose of skipping the last start. Like I said, I was hoping to rebound a lot faster, but again, I’m feeling a lot better every day. so I’ll continue to do all the treatment.”
Eric Hosmer sits
Eric Hosmer was out of the lineup, still recovering from back spasms that forced him to leave Saturday’s game in the fifth, three innings after he was hit by a pitch. Bobby Dalbec took his place at first base . . . President George W. Bush visited both clubhouses prior to the game and made an on-field appearances prior to first pitch. He shook hands with fans as he walked through the crowd at Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field . . . Mike Mussina was on hand. He was recognized along with Jason Varitek in the fourth inning. Mussina is a Williamsport native and serves on the Little League International Board of Directors. Varitek was part of the Altamonte Springs, Fla., team that won the US championship at the 1984 Series, and is the only player to appear in the LLWS, College World Series, MLB World Series, World Baseball Classic, and Summer Olympics, according to MLB.com.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.