Van Slyke, Gibson pay visit to Bowman

Sentinel photo by BEN BRIGANDI
Bob Gibson, left, Little League CEO Steve Keener, center, and Andy Van Slyke pose for a picture at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Monday.

WILLIAMSPORT — Former Major Leaguers Bob Gibson and Andy Van Slyke visited Bowman Field Monday as a promotion for both Little League and the Aug. 20 MLB Little League Classic Aug. 20 between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.

Gibson, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, did not play Little League but did broadcast a final here in 1973 with Keith Jackson and Frank Gifford. He returned in 1976 as a guest of Little League with Joe DiMaggio and Ernie Banks.

Van Slyke, a 13-year outfielder mostly with the Pirates and Cardinals, did play Little League while growing up in New Hartford, NY. He also wished his four kids had received the opportunity as he recalled trying to hit home runs to earn teammates free pizza from a local sponsor.

“The way Little League sets up, it teaches kids to play correctly,” Van Slyke said. “Select baseball is not the best thing for kids 8-12. Now, when the bases get longer and you start stealing, whatever. But brains and bodies are developing, and to simply pitch to a hitter at 12, to worry about throwing to first base, the capacity of a 12-year old can’t handle it.

“It’s hard enough to throw strikes as an adult,” Van Slyke said. “So, I hope, with Major League Baseball promoting Little League Baseball, more people will switch from select teams to these rules and see kids play correctly sooner in their lives.”

The MLB Little League Classic is part of MLB’s initiative to draw more kids to baseball as the Pirates and Cardinals will finish their weekend series on Sunday, Aug. 20 at Bowman Field with Little League World Series players and their families in attendance. Registration for a small-scale public ticket lottery available to Lycoming County residents was held earlier this summer.

The Little League World Series runs Aug. 17-27 at Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums.

The two former professional players were also set to appear at the Little League Golf Classic later Monday at Williamsport Country Club, which Little League said supports its Carl E. Stotz Little League Baseball Scholarship program.

Van Slyke hit .274 with 164 home runs and 792 RBIs from 1983-95, playing four years in St. Louis before a trade to Pittsburgh had him playing center field there from 1987-94. He won five consecutive Gold Gloves in that time. Offensively, he led the National League in triples in 1988 and in 1992, he led the league in doubles and hits — the last of the Pirates’ three consecutive NL East championships.

Gibson, who won 251 games, struck out 3,117 and holds the modern-day record with a 1.12 ERA from 1968, has long represented a different era in the sport where pitchers threw complete games and issues such as rest rules, pitch counts, and innings limits weren’t discussed like they are today.

“I was concerned, but nobody else was,” Gibson said. “I did hurt a bit, yeah, but get some aspirin and go for it. It wasn’t such a concern.

Gibson was known for his durability during that stretch. He once threw 198 pitches in a game, and on another occasion, went 14, 11 and 10 innings in three straight games — each coming with four days rest.

“Now it’s strange. you go five innings and it’s a good ballgame. Go five and lose and it’s not. What do they call that? A quality start,” Gibson said. “A quality start to me was a win.”