Lance Lynn and Randal Grichuk of the Cardinals both played in the Little League World Series when they were 12 years old. (Photos courtesy of Little League Baseball)

By Rob Rains

Lance Lynn and Randal Grichuk could both very well believe they have taken a trip back in time when the Cardinals arrive in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday to participate in Major League Baseball’s salute to the Little League World Series.

It’s been 18 years since Lynn made his first trip to Williamsport as a member of the 1999 Little League team from Brownsburg, Ind. Grichuk was lucky enough to go twice, in 2003 and 2004, as a member of the team from Richmond, Texas.

“You realized you were the cool kid because you were on TV and you didn’t have to be in school when everybody else was,” Lynn said. “They were watching you on TV.”

Said Grichuk, “That’s when baseball was pretty easy. Now it’s a different story.”

Lynn and Grichuk are in the small minority of players from teams which made it to the Little League World Series who went on to play in the major leagues, a fact no one could have predicted when they were both 12 years old.

Both said the trip on Sunday, when the Cardinals will spend part of the day at Little League games before the kids come out to watch them play the Pirates, will bring back a lot of fond memories.

“Probably the neatest part was playing there in front of thousands of people in a stadium for really the first time in your life,” Lynn said. “The real cool part is not about anything that happens on the field. It’s when you meet the kids from other countries. You are living in the same little pod or whatever it’s called.

“Sharing dorms, going swimming, playing Ping Pong against Japanese kids that are beating the crap out of you, those are the things that you remember the most. You have played so many games since, but you are never going to have another moment like that.”

Grichuk actually got to experience those moments twice, first when he was just 11 years old on the 2003 team and then as the only player from that team who earned a repeat trip to Williamsport when it earned a second consecutive southwest region title in 2004.

“We roomed with the Japanese team one year and the team from Chinese Taipei the next year,” Grichuk said. “It was cool being able to hang out with them. You went to the international grove and played Ping Pong and video games and swam. It was cool meeting kids from other countries. I actually became pretty close with some of the kids fro the team from Kentucky and still talk to a couple of them to this day.

“I don’t think we knew at the time how special it was to be one of the top eight teams from the United States to be there. Looking back at it that’s a big achievement and something we dreamed about. … I think the star-struck feeling was out of the way the second year and it was ‘Let’s go try to win this thing.’ It was special both times.”

Grichuk’s team almost did win the championship in his second trip, losing in the U.S. title game. He was the star of the team, going 12-for-20 with four homers and 13 RBIs in six games. At the time, the 12 hits tied the Little League World Series record for most hits in one series, but that record has since been broken.

The Little League World Series experience was the first time Grichuk got media attention for his performance. Counting two homers in the game that won the regional title and sent his team to Williamsport, Grichuk homered in four consecutive plate appearances.

Just a year earlier, Grichuk had hit two homers to help Richmond launch a comeback from a six-run deficit in a U.S. semifinal, but it turned out he was the losing pitcher when Saugus, Mass., the New England regional champions, won the game 14-13 in the seventh inning.

Grichuk had that in common with Lynn, who suffered the loss in his first game in the Little League World Series when he gave up a walkoff grand slam to the team from Phenix City, Ala., led by future Cardinal teammate Colby Rasmus.

It was another player on that team, not Rasmus, who delivered the game-winning blow.

“It was to a kid who never even played high school baseball (Kyle Tidwell),” Lynn said. “I would have rather given it up to him (Rasmus).”

Lynn played first base in Brownsburg’s other two games, and his biggest memory is that his team went 0-3 during its stay in Williamsport. At the plate, he went 3-of-7.

“Most of the people I played with on that team, that was their baseball highlight,” Lynn said. “To do it with a group of kids you grew up with - most of us had been best friends and played together since we were 6 – that was cool.”

Lynn and several of those teammates did have another highlight a few years later when they led Brownsburg to the state high school championship in Indiana.

That team also was ranked as the number one team in the country that season. Rasmus’s team from Phenix City was ranked number two.

“Our coach and Colby’s dad (who coached that team) got to know each other pretty well and stayed in touch because of the high school rankings,” Lynn said. “We were always connected since then.”

Both Lynn and Grichuk try to watch as many of the games on television each year as possible. This year’s World Series began on Thursday. Major League Baseball announced on Thursday that Lynn and Grichuk will be recognized on the field before Sunday's Little League game.

“It’s still fun to see,” Lynn said about watching the games on television.

Grichuk actually went back for a third consecutive year, in 2005, just as a fan to watch the games.

Both also understand what Major League Baseball is trying to do with tying its game to the Little Leaguers, who will form the bulk of the audience, along with their parents, in the 2,700-seat stadium.

“It’s baseball spreading its wings,” Lynn said. “It’s the kids this year, they did it with the military last year (in a game at Fort Bragg, N.C.). They are doing a good job of thinking outside the box and doing things where we can promote the game. I like what they have done with that.”

This will be Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny’s first trip to Williamsport, a fact which brings up an unpleasant memory for him.

When he was on the team from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Matheny’s team fell just short of making it to the World Series.

“The game was in Hagerstown, Maryland, and we had to beat the hometown team,” Matheny said. “We had some cooking that day. I think every parent got kicked out. It was pretty bad.

“It was a big deal when we were kids. We watched it (the World Series) that year almost in tears, because we thought we should have been there.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains