WILLIAMSPORT — Rhys Hoskins was about to leave Lamade Stadium after watching a Little League World Series game and head across town to prepare for his own game when he stopped almost in his tracks.
Big Rhys, meet Big Al.
If you thought the Little Leaguers were the only ones to feel starstruck here Sunday during MLB's day-long celebration of youth baseball, Hoskins is here to tell you to think again. The Phillies slugger met dozens of kids and scribbled countless autographs. But the highlight of his day might have been when he came face to face with Alfred Delia, the 12-year-old from Middletown, N.J., who became a video sensation recently during a humorous made-for-TV player introduction in which he identified himself as "Big Al" and said, "I hit dingers."
"We walked by each other, and obviously I noticed him," Hoskins said. "Obviously his little video went viral pretty quick. The guy's a character. We share a common love — hitting dingers. It was cool."
Once again, that was Rhys Hoskins — face of the Phillies, the fastest player in franchise history to reach 100 RBIs and a Home Run Derby contestant at the All-Star Game last month — talking about a middle schooler.
"I think it just kind of reminds you," Hoskins said, "that this game is meant to be fun."
More than anything, that was what this was all about for the Phillies and the New York Mets. Both teams jetted to Williamsport on Sunday morning and spent most of the day mingling with Little League World Series teams. For a few hours, the Phillies got a breather from the rigors of a surprising playoff race, the Mets from the monotony of playing out the string in a season that went off the rails.
And although they got back to reality a few minutes after 7 p.m. when Phillies righthander Nick Pivetta threw his first pitch to Mets leadoff man Amed Rosario, they were still playing in front of a crowd made up almost entirely of Little Leaguers, their families and friends at a minor-league ballpark that seats less than 2,500 people.
"There's a genuine, 'I'm here to be in this with you and spend time with you and get to know you and give you a great experience' [attitude], and then there's something that's manufactured. We actually are happy to be here," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "At one point, I think, [rightfielder] Nick [Williams] was asking if we could stay over there for a little bit longer to watch a little bit more baseball. This is what we want to do.
"We know it's big for baseball. We know that the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball can enhance our game, and we're not going to miss this opportunity."
It was everywhere to be seen and heard.
In one corner of the Phillies' cramped clubhouse, Williams walked around wearing a blue and yellow cap that was given to him by a coach from the team representing Australia. In another, rookie shortstop Scott Kingery — one of 13 Little League World Series alumni who have played in the majors this season — was remarking about how much fun he had talking to the players from the Midwest region team on the bus ride between stadiums.
"There were some funny guys on that team from Iowa," Kingery said. "It was pretty good just to talk to them. It's special because I tried to put myself in their shoes and what it would be like."
>> READ MORE: Scott Kingery reflects on his trip to the LLWS in 2006
Pivetta tweeted out a picture with the Canadian team, which happens to hail from his home province of British Columbia. And third-string catcher Andrew Knapp was grateful to be recalled from triple A as the Phillies' 26th player for many reasons, but especially because his Lakeside Little League team from Granite Bay, Calif., fell just short of reaching Williamsport in 2002.
"I was devastated," Knapp said. "We played the whole summer and I knew school was starting the next week. If we had made it, at least I would've gotten to skip school. Maybe now that I'm 26, I can go back and say I finally made it."
Knapp even dropped $25 on the light blue West region cap that is being worn at this year's world series by the team from Honolulu.
"I had to get one," Knapp said. "I didn't get one when I was 11."
Kingery managed to score a West hat for free.
"I guess [Knapp] didn't ask the right guys," Kingery said, chuckling.
It marked the second year that MLB has moved a game to Williamsport during the Little League World Series. Last season, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals who got to share the day with Little Leaguers.
Given their turn, the Phillies temporarily thought about something other than whether the division-leading Atlanta Braves were losing and the possibility of reclaiming first place in the National League East.
"It was pretty surreal because I walked into the dugout as [the Little Leaguers] were getting ready for their game and one of them was like, 'Whoa, Scott Kingery,'" Kingery said. "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 was awesome."
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