WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The baseball gods don't bestow free passes. Anyone who steps on a ballfield is inevitably touched by failure -- a strikeout in a big spot, a mental error, a physical mistake. On Sunday night here, dozens of Little Leaguers will gather to watch the Phillies and the Mets, their baseball peers who have reached the highest level in the game, and the youngsters should know that everybody in uniform has a memory about a challenging moment.
Here are some of the Little League memories collected from big leaguers in the past week:
Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco Giants: "My toughest time was giving up a game-winning hit during the final game of our regular season. We were up one run, and only needed to get one more out to win the league in our age group. There were guys on second and third, and I just had to get that last out. The kid I was facing wasn't very good, but for some reason, I couldn't throw strikes. The count was three balls and one strike, and I didn't want to walk him, so I decided to lob the ball to the catcher.
"What do you know -- he swung the bat and drove in both runs. I was devastated. The opposing team cheered, I got picked on for giving up a hit to probably the worst player on the other team and I felt like it was all my fault because I doubted that kid.
"I was supposed to be the best; I thought my fastball was untouchable. I guess that's why they say to stay humble in this game, and that is the day I was taught why."
Todd Frazier, New York Mets: "I remember striking out in the last inning to lose a championship game when I was 11 against my best friend, Scott Fisher. He was really good. It was a very hard day for me because I wanted to win, but I could not find a way."
Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds: "I have experienced many ups and downs in the game of baseball. What I've come to realize is that I learn a lot more from my mistakes than I do my successes. It's not that I enjoy them more than my successes, but I've learned that failure and becoming a better baseball player go hand in hand.
"I remember my first actual tryout, I was 7 years old at the time. I went up to hit and I swung and missed at every pitch. I couldn't believe it. I grew up in a baseball family and had three older brothers and never had a problem hitting off of them, but for some reason, I couldn't hit during this tryout. I broke down crying after thinking no one would want me on their team.
"Thankfully, a coach picked me, and I went off to have a great season. I learned quickly that I wasn't going to play my best every single day. There were going to be days where I played terribly or I made a mistake that would cost my team the game. I still deal with days like that even as a major league baseball player.
"One of my favorite sayings is 'you either win or learn.' I love this because when we lose, it is not a total loss unless we make it one. What it is more than anything, is an opportunity to grow and get better."
Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals: "I remember one time when we were in the state championship game and I was playing center field. Bases loaded, two outs, and we were up by two runs in the last inning.
"The batter hit a low line drive to me and I was getting ready to dive to make a catch, but at the last second, I realized I wasn't going to be able to catch it, so I stopped and tried to block the ball, and it ended up getting past me and going all the way to the fence.
"Three runs scored and we ended up losing that game. Luckily, we were playing double-elimination and ended up winning the next game and going on to regionals, but at that moment, I felt like I let my teammates down. It was definitely one of my toughest moments as a kid."
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs: "When I was 12, I got cut from my baseball team because I wanted to play soccer and basketball as well. I was crushed, and I didn't understand why I couldn't do all three. I guess they questioned my commitment. Joke's on them."
Jake Arrieta, Philadelphia Phillies: "The difference between triumph and tragedy from a baseball perspective is so small. We won our state final against Deer Park [Texas] before advancing to the regional in St. Pete. In the bottom of the sixth, bases loaded, two outs and a full count. We were up by one. Our stud lefty was on the mound, and he struck the guy out looking to win the game. That one pitch changed everything for us.
"We lost in the regional finals to Team Florida, in a game that would've sent us to Williamsport, and were eliminated. One thing I remember vividly is just how good the teams were in our pool; it was incredible. This was the year Todd Frazier won with Toms River. That game would have sent us to Williamsport. I threw a no-hitter two games prior -- I believe against Team Alabama -- and hit a home run through the trees in left-center field that I can still see to this day. I remember feeling like baseball would never be the same for me.
Gabe Kapler, Phillies: "When I was a boy, I played baseball at a city park a few blocks from my house. Like many of us feel about our youth baseball home field, that place holds some of my favorite memories. I spent countless Saturdays, sunup to sundown at the park.
"When I was 12, I was in my zone. It was the best time of my youth baseball life. My team was facing Marcos Vasquez, undoubtedly the best pitcher in the league. Marcos was bigger than most kids -- athletic, left-handed and he threw gas. I was a nobody. I worked hard, I adored baseball, but I didn't have his size or physical ability at that age.
"I stepped in against him and squared up a pitch. Likely surprising everyone, the pitch sailed over the portable mesh fencing in center field. It was my most memorable moment on a baseball field to date. I was on top of the world. As I played pickle and celebrated with my friends after the game, a kid from another team walked past. He looked over and said, 'Lucky home run, Kapler.'
"He probably didn't even consider what he was saying, but the words were a dagger to me. In that instant, my joy turned to disappointment and anger. My ego was bruised. I didn't want to be lucky. I wanted to be recognized as good. Why wasn't everyone seeing that I had simply beat Marcos?
"Truth be told, it probably was part luck. Putting a round bat on a round baseball traveling at a high rate of speed is difficult. But so what? I can control how hard I work. I can adore baseball and I can prepare like an animal. I can't control how tall I am, how much stronger my opponent is, where the ball goes once it leaves my bat or, most importantly, how others see me.
"That day taught me to prepare relentlessly and show up over and over, because if I do, I might get lucky."
Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros: "When I was 10 years old, I was on my AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] team, the Tampa Cannons, and we were playing in the 10-and-under national championship tournament at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida. This tournament was at the end of the summer and was our big finish after winning other tournaments all summer including the Florida state title just weeks before. Our team was in the quarterfinals versus a rival of ours, the Orlando Express (current big leaguer Jesse Winker played for them). We were in the bottom of the sixth, the final inning, with one out, and I was up to bat with the tying run on third.
"I was in a 2-2 count and hit a fly ball into shallow left field, and the third baseman, left fielder and shortstop all went back for the ball. The ball was caught and our runner, Conor O'Brien, tagged for home. He was called safe, but the call was then overturned on an appeal at third base for leaving the bag early, and we lost the game on that call.
"At the time, it was the most heartbreaking loss to deal with, but moving forward, it built a lot of character in our team, and we used that to become closer as a team and continued to win other championships in the future.
"The lesson I learned from this experience is that although you may prepare for something and give it your all, it may not always work out the way you hope in the end, but that's OK because you can always build on those moments of failure and disappointment and allow them to fuel your success."
News from around the major leagues
• The Los Angeles Dodgers waited for the better part of two seasons for Logan Forsythe to perform consistently, and just before the trade deadline, they gave up and traded him to the Twins for Brian Dozier. Lo and behold, Forsythe has erupted offensively with Minnesota, hitting .415 in his first 15 games ... and sources say the veteran second baseman has cleared waivers and might be attractive to the Indians or other clubs.
• Washington Nationals infielder Daniel Murphy had a lengthy recovery from microfracture knee surgery, but over the past five weeks, he has found his swing again -- since July 8, he's hitting over .360, with an OPS of almost 1.000, important numbers as he moves closer to another round of free agency. And if the disappointing Nationals decide to sell off, he could be an interesting addition for a team such as the Astros.
• Torey Lovello's Arizona Diamondbacks are not a dynamic offensive team, ranking 17th of 30 teams in runs scored and 19th in home runs. But they have been baseball's best defensive squad, leading in many metrics, including the framing work done by catchers Jeff Mathis, John Ryan Murphy and Alex Avila, which has enhanced the pitching of the first-place D-backs.
• Miami Marlins righty Jose Urena drew a lot of scrutiny for hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. with a 97 mph fastball the other day, drawing a six-game suspension. But it wasn't the only example of a hitter seemingly getting hurt after being drilled intentionally. On Aug. 4, the Reds' Joey Votto was smoked by Washington's Ryan Madson in what Votto seemed to interpret as retaliation. Votto was placed on the disabled list Friday. Remember that word Cubs manager Joe Maddon used to describe the incident: Neanderthal.
And today will be better than yesterday.