MLB trio travels down memory lane in return to Williamsport

When MLB stars dominated Little League World Series (0:54)

MLB stars like Gary Sheffield, Michael Conforto and Cody Bellinger made their debuts on the big stage during the Little League World Series. (0:54)

When Michael Conforto reflects on his Little League World Series experience, he thinks back to spirited games of pingpong, leisure time at the swimming pool and forays to a cafeteria stocked with abundant options throughout the day. The fresh fruit was healthy. The pizza and ice cream ... not so much.

"It's like paradise for kids," Conforto says. "We were spoiled. I'm sure they spoil them in the same way now."

Scott Kingery watches the YouTube video and sees an earnest, undersized preteen with curly hair and big dreams. He stood 4-foot-9 and weighed 79 pounds when he played shortstop for the West Regional champs in the 2006 LLWS. Under Kingery's "favorite player" graphic on the ESPN broadcast, he listed Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard -- who stood 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and went by the nickname "Big Piece."

Todd Frazier, star of the 1998 Toms River, New Jersey, "Beast of the East'' entry, remembers trading pins with kids from around the world and celebrating a championship through a smile adorned in braces.

"With my big head," he says, laughing.

When the Phillies and New York Mets take part in the second annual Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Sunday night, they'll be at the forefront of Major League Baseball's initiative to promote the game at a grassroots level. Players from the two teams will ride buses with the kids, hang in the dugouts and watch some of this year's tournament at Lamade Stadium before playing in a 7 p.m. nationally televised game at Bowman Field, home of the Class A Williamsport Crosscutters.

For two Mets and one Phillie, the main event will elicit a wave of nostalgia, as they relive their first exposure on a national stage.

Frazier, Conforto and Kingery are all returning to Williamsport for the first time since playing in the Little League World Series. They're on a list with Gary Sheffield, Cody Bellinger and almost 50 other players who ascended from the LLWS to the big leagues since the event's inception in 1947.

"I'm going to have a blast," Frazier says. "I'm going to try and live it up, just like I did when I was there. I can't wait to see the field again, because that's mecca, man."

Twenty years ago, Frazier cut a swath through central Pennsylvania as a two-way threat. He hit .667 during the tournament, went 4-for-4 and recorded the game-ending strikeout in relief in a 12-9 victory over Kashima, Japan, in the 1998 title game.

Now 32 years old -- and a Home Run Derby winner and two-time All-Star -- Frazier embraces his role as a goodwill ambassador for Little League Baseball. He's ready with some motivational messages to convey to the participants in this year's tournament.

"When you have a dream of being a major leaguer and you go to Williamsport, it shows that you can do it," Frazier says. "That's what I'm going to try and instill in these kids when I talk to them. 'Don't ever tell anybody that you can't be a Major League Baseball player or a firefighter or whatever you want to be.' If you work your butt off, at least you can say, 'I gave it my all to try and do this.' There's opportunity for them, and I hope that they can understand that."

Conforto, 26, played for the Redmond, Washington, Northwest Region championship team that lost two of three games in Williamsport in 2004. He was a two-sport prodigy at the time, and the experience nudged him toward baseball over football. Conforto became part of a trivia question when he joined Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg as one three players to appear in a Little League World Series, a College World Series and a major league World Series.

"I think it does wonders for the kids who decide it's something they want to pursue in their lives," Conforto says. "For me, I was like, 'I want to be on every All-Star team and play on the biggest stage.' I think it jumpstarted things for me, especially in baseball, because I really loved football at that point. That's when I started to really like baseball and wanted to continue to work at it."

Kingery, 24, was a driving force for the Ahwatukee, Arizona, squad that defeated entrants from California and Hawaii before losing to the eventual LLWS champions from Columbus, Georgia, in 2006. His father, Tom, coached the team, and his identical twin brother, Sam, was Ahwatukee's second baseman and his middle infield partner.

"It was a cool experience to be together and have it be a family thing," Kingery says. "Playing with my brother, we kind of knew where the other one was going to be at all times. People were like, 'How did you make that play?' And I was like, 'I don't know.' I just knew if I flipped it behind my back or something, he was going to be there."

For all three players, the memories transcend events on the field. After the Redmond team advanced to Williamsport, Conforto sat at the kitchen table and filled out a questionnaire with personal nuggets. He listed Barry Bonds as his favorite big leaguer and his father, Mike, as his role model. Frazier was a menace at the pingpong table, and he struck up friendships with kids from around the world with his outgoing personality.

Kingery, like so many other LLWS participants, remembers the trip to Williamsport as the first time he was asked for his autograph.

Their celebrity status gave the players access to a whole new world. Kingery and his Ahwatukee teammates received a congratulatory phone call from Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson and were honored at D-backs and Cardinals games. During the 2004 Little League World Series, Conforto and the Redmond squad traveled to State College, Pennsylvania, on an off-day and received a pep talk from Joe Paterno, who had previously coached Mike Conforto at Penn State University in the late 1970s.

Frazier experienced the ultimate adrenaline rush when the Toms River team was recognized at Yankee Stadium and he stood for the national anthem alongside Derek Jeter. He called the moment a "surreal experience'' and a "dream come true."

Among media observers and fans, the increased exposure of the Little League World Series occasionally raises questions and spurs debate. Are young athletes emotionally equipped to handle the burden of making an error or striking out on national television? It is a case of too much, too soon? Conforto, while sensitive to those questions, regards his trip to Williamsport as a formative experience in his development as a professional athlete.

"I think you learn so much from the good and the bad, as long as you have the right people around you," he says. "Our coaches were great and the players on our team were great at picking each other up. Losing games and making mistakes is part of life. It's something you have to learn along the way. If you can do it at such a young age, and on such a big stage, I think that's a really valuable lesson to be learned."

The lessons -- and accompanying emotions -- will come flooding back Sunday when Conforto, Frazier and Kingery reflect on a less complicated and more carefree time in all of their lives.

"I was pretty nervous at the time," Kingery says. "But more than anything, when you see the cameras and all those fans in the stands, you're excited. At 12 years old, you're just having fun playing a game you love.

"I'm sure it'll bring back memories, just seeing the field again. I've felt what those kids are feeling right now. It will be cool to talk to all the Little Leaguers and see how excited they are, because I was in their position once."