Pirates notebook: Little Leaguers pay visit, get thrill
Four days after the Pirates visited Williamsport, three Little League World Series teams came to visit them.
Players, coaches and families representing Latin America, Europe and Japan traveled across state to attend Thursday's late-afternoon game at PNC Park. A procession of Pirates took turns signing pregame autographs for the kids who crowded into the front-row seats along the third-base railing.
The Latin American team was from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and the European kids were from Emilia, Italy, so Francisco Cervelli was clearly the star attraction. The Pirates catcher chatted with each team and handed out a shoebox filled with batting gloves.
“Here, there are so many guys who can speak to them in their own language,” said Gary Whiteman, the Little League World Series host for the Latin American team. “These guys come in and instantly bring a little bit of home to them. For these guys to come and (visit) with the boys is phenomenal. It's hard to describe their faces. Just an incredible showing of joy and excitement and adulation.”
Pirates bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, who also handed out gloves, was involved in inviting the Latin American team. Cervelli played a role with the Italian team. Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish welcomed the Japanese team from Tokyo.
Felipe Rivero, Ivan Nova, Juan Nicasio, Joaquin Benoit, Steven Brault and Johnny Barbato were among the Pirates players who signed autographs and posed for selfies with the Little Leaguers. The youth teams were scheduled to return Thursday night to Williamsport.
The Latin American team was flying home Monday.
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids,” Whiteman said. “They've seen things they've never seen in their life. … To experience the interaction with the MLB guys has probably restored a lot of faith in the world that maybe can be shaken (sometimes). It's been a tremendous two weeks for these guys.”
The Pirates played last Sunday in Williamsport in the MLB's Little League Classic. The game was held in conjunction with the Little League World Series, which concludes Sunday.
Japan remains in contention and will face Mexico or Canada in the semifinals Saturday. The Venezuelan and Italian teams were eliminated.
With Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu on the mound, Thursday was a good time to give Starling Marte a day off, Clint Hurdle said. Marte is batting .312 against right-handers but just .140 against lefties.
“It's just a day off,” Hurdle said. “And if you're going to give him a day off, this left-handed thing hasn't worked out to his advantage.”
Marte has a career .288 average against left-handers. Sean Rodriguez started in left field with Adam Frazier in right.
A day after hitting on the field, Cervelli was scheduled for another day of activity Thursday, Hurdle said, as the catcher works his way back from left wrist soreness. Cervelli, who's on the DL, has not played since Aug. 13.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.