Varitek knows better than most how special Williamsport can be; Dupere crushing in Low-A

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Aug. 22—PITTSBURGH — Long before Jason Varitek was a two-time World Series champion and a Red Sox Hall of Famer, the longtime catcher was a talented 12-year-old who led his Altamonte Springs, Florida team to the 1984 Little League World Series final.

"It was phenomenal," Varitek said. "Back then there was one game on national television, it was ABC, the final game, that was it. The overall attention and as a kid you're staying by yourself in barracks with your team, other teams, you're hanging out and you're isolated from everything else and you're there with the best Little Leaguers in the world."

It was to that point the highlight of his baseball career, and now Varitek has a chance to revisit the site of his first greatest experience as a player.

Sunday night the Red Sox will face the Baltimore Orioles in the 5th annual Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Established in 2017, the event is held in conjunction with the Little League World Series and aims to bring big league and Little League players together, allowing the next generation's stars a chance to see their heroes up close.

As part of the event the Red Sox and Orioles players will attend Little League World Series games earlier in the day, and come nightfall when the two teams square off at Historic Bowman Field, the stands will largely be filled with Little League players, their families and local Williamsport-area residents.

The game will be featured on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball starting at 7 p.m.

For Varitek, having the chance to be back at Williamsport will be special. He's only returned once since he was 12, visiting in 2019, and as one of only three people to have competed in the Little League, College and MLB World Series — pitcher Ed Vosberg and outfielder Michael Conforto are the others — few have a better appreciation of what the Little League World Series experience can mean for a young player.

"The excitement, the stage for a 12-year-old to go through that, the process to get there building teamwork and togetherness and what a team does and the fundamentals behind it," Varitek said. "That whole excitement of what Williamsport brings, especially at that age, it can't be matched."

The game comes at a crucial time for the Red Sox, who are in the midst of a 12-game stretch against AL Wild Card contenders that may determine whether Boston has a path to the playoffs or not. With stakes that high, the Red Sox have remained focused on the task at hand, but Varitek predicted that once they arrive in Williamsport the players will enjoy a special experience.

"I think it will mean more to them once they see the excitement of the Little Leaguers we'll meet," Varitek said.

Bloom on Bleis: 'A true five-tool talent'

Most Red Sox fans are familiar with Marcelo Mayer and Triston Casas, two recent first-round picks who are among the most highly touted prospects in the organization. But one less well known prospect may have an even higher ceiling.

Miguel Bleis, an 18-year-old Dominican outfielder signed as an international free agent in January of 2021, has emerged as one of the most promising young players in the Red Sox system and as a potential franchise player. Bleis has earned rave reviews from scouts who have seen him in the Florida Complex League, and Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom described him as a special player.

"To put it simply he's got all the tools. Obviously he's still developing but from a physical standpoint there's no facet of the game he can't impact," Bloom said prior to Thursday's game in Pittsburgh. "He could be really special in the box, in the field, on the bases. Really a true five-tool talent."

Signed for $1.5 million, Bleis has posted gaudy numbers this summer in rookie ball. Entering the weekend he was batting .301 with a .896 OPS along with five home runs, 27 RBI, 14 doubles and 18 stolen bases in 40 games. He's been arguably the best position player in the entire FCL, and Bloom said while his own interactions with Bleis have been limited, the reports he's gotten from Fort Myers have been glowing.

Eck irks Pirates with 'hodgepodge of nothingness' remark

Red Sox commentator and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley has never been afraid to speak his mind, and this week he laid into the Pittsburgh Pirates for fielding what he described as a no-name lineup devoid of players with any serious potential.

"You just came from Kansas City seeing all those young kids, this is different. Doesn't it seem different? They have a lot of prospects they're playing over there," Eckersley said on Tuesday's NESN broadcast. "This is a hodgepodge of nothingness."

"It's ridiculous," he continued. "It really is. Pathetic."

Those comments quickly reached Pittsburgh's clubhouse, and the Pirates weren't exactly amused.

"I couldn't give less of a crap what that guy has to say," center fielder Bryan Reynolds told reporters, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Doesn't change any of our lives. If he wants some air time, he can say whatever he wants."

Right-handed relief pitcher Wil Crowe acknowledged Eckersley's stature within the game, pointing to his being a former player and a Hall of Famer, but also expressed confusion that Eckersley would attack them given how they are clearly in a rebuilding phase.

"It's just surprising that a guy of his stature would come after us," Crowe said. "I think it was kind of crappy and bush league."

Difficult as it was to hear for the players, Eckersley wasn't exactly wrong, and the criticism was clearly directed more at the front office anyway. The Pirates perennially rank near the bottom of the league in payroll, and this year's team is 28th out of 30 with a total payroll of around $66 million.

Led by former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, the Pirates do have a lot of promising prospects in their organization, but most of the best are still years from the majors. That's left a bare-bones MLB roster with only a handful of interesting players, including Reynolds, injured third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, closer David Bednar and rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz.

Cherington has a proven track record of building through the minors, so given enough time the Pirates may well blossom into a contender once more. But considering that the Pirates have posted four straight last place finishes and have only finished above .500 four times since 1993, it's hard to argue the club deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Dupere crushing the ball in Low-A

Last month Amesbury's Jared Dupere was called up to the San Francisco Giants' Low-A affiliate and immediately started hitting the ball. In the weeks since he's only continued picking up steam.

Through his first 27 games with the San Jose Giants, the former Governor's Academy and Northeastern University star had already hit nine home runs with 25 RBI and 23 runs scored to go along with a .293 average and a gaudy .964 OPS.

He's been hitting the ball especially well lately. Since the start of August and entering the weekend Dupere already had six homers, 13 RBI and 15 runs in 15 games.

Needless to say that's exactly the kind of start the 23-year-old outfielder had hoped for as he starts his professional baseball journey.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.