LITTLE LEAGUE CLASSIC:
There haven’t been too many opportunities, since they won the 2019 World Series, and then kicked off an organizational reboot at the trade deadline in 2021, for Washington’s Nationals to get a national spotlight.
The Nationals and Philadelphia’s Phillies played their series finale in 2023’s Little League Classic last night, in Williamsport, PA, on a national broadcast, so the club and its young players got a little more attention than they’re probably used to on Sunday.
“One, they should feel blessed about doing something like this,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters in his pregame press conference from the dugout in Muncy Bank Ballpark.
“Two, they should understand that there’s more to come. This is only the beginning. Take it for what it’s worth, understand where we’re at, enjoy every moment of it, but learn by it, because I really believe that this club — we’ve been there before, but there’s a [light] at the end of this tunnel.”
Martinez and his club, “spent the morning exploring the Little League International complex in Williamsport,” as the club noted in a press release on their activities before the game with their NL East rivals, talking about their own Little League memories, sliding down the hill at Lamade Stadium, which hosts the Little League World Series, and signing autographs for all the players and fans they could.
The significance of the day was not last on the Nats’ skipper.
“It blew me away, it really did. TV doesn’t do it any justice of what it really is,” he said of the whole atmosphere, and the game they took in between Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
“I felt blessed to be here and be a part of today,” Martinez added, “and hopefully we go out tonight and we put on a good show and we go out there and compete and come out going 1-0.”
They did just that, beating the Phillies 4-3 to take two of three in the series, on the strength of a four-run first inning and a solid start by Trevor Williams, who tossed six scoreless in the game, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out four in a 94-pitch effort.
Keibert Ruiz doubled with the bases loaded to drive in two runs in the first inning, then a Dominic Smith single drove in two more, and the Nationals held the Phils off of the board until the ninth inning.
Brandon Marsh singled to drive in one run off Mason Thompson, then scored on a two-run home run by Jake Cave off Kyle Finnegan, who came on to close it out and eventually did, giving the Nationals the victory.
“A game like this is big,” CJ Abrams said of the day as a whole, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game.
“There’s a lot of fans watching back at home. It’s just an exciting game to play, let alone to win.”
Carter Kieboom, the Nationals’ 2016 1st Round pick, hasn’t played in the majors since 2021, dealing with a variety of injuries after he struggled in his first three seasons of exposure at the major league level. Kieboom, who turns 26 on September 3rd, dealt with a wrist injury back in 2020, had a flexor mass strain in 2022, and then Tommy John surgery, before this season, when he struggled with lat and oblique issues.
Kieboom went on the IL at Triple-A in June, then returned to action earlier this month, and he had a .264/.360/.429 line, six doubles, and five home runs for the club’s top affiliate on the year before he was called up as the Nationals’ 27th man for the Little League Classic on Sunday.
“He got hurt, he was on rehab, he came back and played, and then he got hurt again, so it’s been a slow process for him,” Martinez said of Kieboom’s return to the field, and then to the majors yesterday.
“He was swinging the bat a lot better. He’s playing third base. Hopefully he’s over the injuries and he can get back and really start playing and get him back in the swing of things.”
“When they told me, there was a lot going through my mind,” Kieboom said of getting back to the majors, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I was kind of exhausted in a way, but there’s so much energy, I’m really excited. I just told myself that you worked so hard for this, and you worked so hard to come back, you have to enjoy it. No more pressure on yourself. Just have fun with the time left that you have. That’s kind of where my head’s at right now.”
Martinez said he wanted to see Kieboom get back to what made him a top prospect in the organization before he came up and went through some tough times.
“I just want him to go out there, and want him to get back to having that quick twitch, getting back in the game. It’s different. As we all know, the game is a lot quicker than anywhere else.
“So if we get a chance to see him play today, just go out there and react to the baseball and just have fun.”
Kieboom didn’t get into the game in Williamsport, but after the game, the Nationals made a move to send a player back down to Triple-A, and opted to option Jeter Downs down, so it’s looking like Kieboom will get an opportunity to stick around for a while.