At the age of 12, the 4’11” 89 pound shortstop Max Moroff was part of the Maitland, Florida team competing in the Little League World Series and dreaming of being a big leaguer one day. And 12 years later Moroff fulfilled that dream, and he was back in Williamsport as a Major Leaguer for the Pittsburgh Pirates playing the first ever game known as the MLB Little League Classic. The players donned the Player’s Weekend nickname jerseys in that Sunday night game on ESPN. Moroff’s nickname on his jersey: Maxwell. It was Maxwell’s house back in 2005 when he bunked in the dorms at The Grove in Williamsport as part of the LLWS.
“I never thought I would go back as a big leaguer,” Max Moroff said. “So cool hanging out with the [Little League] kids. It was surreal. The fields, the dorms and the game room are exactly the same. What an experience.”
Time is kind of frozen at the Little League complex. Not much has changed over the years which gives it the charm of being cast back to simpler times when baseball started as a kid’s game. The MLB Little League Classic game was played at BB&T Ballpark at historic Bowman Field a 91-year-old minor league ballpark located 5 miles from where the Little League World Series takes place. It is a small minor league ballpark in Williamsport and home of the Williamsport Crosscutters, currently a short-season team of the Phillies and they play in the same New York-Penn League as the Nationals’ Auburn Doubledays. MLB spent money to spruce up the ballpark, and the 2,366-seat venue was packed with 2,596 lucky fans at game time including all of the Little Leaguers.
“It was refreshing every once in a while to be able to look in the stands and see the kids watching the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was one of the highlights of my career. The handshakes that I got today from little people. The smiles. The thank yous. They were heartfelt and real… I was humbled to be part of it. I was just grateful I got this experience.”
For the 24-year-old Moroff, he said it was surreal walking around the Little League sites like the fields, the dorms in The Grove, and the game room that he played in 12 years before. This game literally cut his life exactly in half. Two segments of a dozen years each. His Little League time transformed him and his love for the game, and at heart — he is still a kid. Physically, Moroff didn’t even grow much more. He stands today at only 5’10” and plays some of the same positions he played back in 2005 although he doesn’t pitch anymore or play catcher. As a Major Leaguer, Moroff in his rookie season has played shortstop, 2nd base, and 3rd base. He will play wherever his manager Clint Hurdle pencils him in and hopes to play outfield one day also.
In that 2005 Little League World Series, there have been 3 players who have emerged now as Major Leaguers: Moroff, Andrew Stevenson, and Jurickson Profar. Andrew Stevenson of the Washington Nationals played for the Lafayette Lousiana Little League. Like Moroff, Andrew Stevenson was also shaped by his Little League World Series experience, and he would love the opportunity to play in the next MLB Little League Classic.
“Yeah, that would be really cool to go back over there,” Andrew Stevenson said. “I watched [parts of] a few of the [Little League] games in the clubhouse.”
The plan is for MLB to make the MLB Little League Classic an annual event. Hopefully the scheduling will work out for next year and Stevenson and Moroff can face-off against each other.
Moroff grew up in central Florida and is also the same age as Trea Turner. They never played each other in travel ball or high school, but they were both scouted and drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and the same scouting evaluators. While they didn’t know each other through their teenage years, Moroff said he played against Trea in Double-A and Triple-A. The Nationals and Pirates are set to play each other in the final series of this season, and he looks forward to seeing Trea and Andrew Stevenson.
For Moroff, his historic week started 2 nights before the game in Williamsport. Moroff hit a ball clear out of PNC Park and into the Allegheny River. It was a historic home run, and you may recall Bryce Harper hit one nearly as far. Moroff’s home run ball was rescued by a firefighter named Max who dove into the river to retrieve the baseball. Only 30 players in history have hit a home run ball into the Allegheny River and the diminutive Moroff is now one of them.
“I didn’t think I had enough power to hit it in the water,” Max Moroff humbly said. “I’m not the biggest guy — I’m only 5’10” 185 pounds. I have to be the smallest guy to ever have hit it in the water.”
The switch-hitting Moroff now has two career MLB home runs, and hopes to continue to learn and progress and just get better every game.
Moroff’s historic week wasn’t over. From August 18th when he hit the home run into the river to August 20th in the MLB Little League Classic to August 23rd when his team faced the Los Angeles Dodgers and Rich Hill and the bid for the perfect game, it was a week Moroff will never forget.
On August 23rd, Rich Hill had a perfect game intact through 8.0 full innings. An error in the 9th inning ruined the perfect game bid — Hill still had the no-hitter going, but the problem also was that the game was tied 0-to-0. The Pirates were no-hit through 9 innings, and Hill came out for the bottom of the 10th inning when he became the only pitcher to ever lose a no-hitter on a walk-off home run. Yes, Josh Harrison ended that game with a home run into the first row of the seats in the leftfield. That loss also pushed the Dodgers into a nose-dive where they have now lost 9 of their last 12 games.
“The first time that has ever happened,” Moroff said. “I was so happy for [Josh Harrison].”
For Moroff, it was a historic week of firsts. From Little Leaguer to big leaguer, his journey continues.