Proud to Say: South Tahoe little league opens ceremoniously
May 7, 2012
Long shadows were cast by the morning sun onto the freshly raked infield dirt on Saturday morning. It was warm enough to trade pants for shorts and even leave the jacket in the car, if warm-blooded enough. Clods of grass were scattered through the outfield, and coupled with the fresh smell in the air, it was immediately obvious that the grass had just been cut.
Three half-circle banners – with red, white and blue – clung to the backstop. The kind that really only see action twice a year. The Fourth of July and opening day, both national holidays in some books.
Ball players lined the edge of the green, where the dirt met blades. Broken chalk lines marked the path from home to the corner bases. Obviously some missed the memo to stay off the infield, but it is hard when hundreds of kids are anxiously waiting to play ball.
The Red Sox were mingling with the Yankees, an abomination in other parts and in other games. The Athletics and Giants were, appropriately, wrestling with one another. A gang of black and orange had separated an A’s player, while his comrades surrounded a lone Dodgers player – also appropriate. None of those California teams really like each other.
A smaller player, with knee-high orange socks and the belt to match, entered the field from the home side with mom in tow. She was hurrying to get in front of him with her video camera out. She stopped and asked him what he thought of opening day.
“I don’t know,” he said, with his head on a swivel, still taking it all in.
The ball field has that effect on the young ones. It takes a moment to realize that it’s not a dream – or Iowa. It’s all real. Soon the players have a chance to kick a little dirt on the plate, then tap it with the tip of their bat. They’ll get to step on first with the loftiest ambitions of making it to second. Who cares if coach says, “stop.”
A fielder will spit in his glove and pull his cap down a little lower as he waits for the ball to come his way. The pitcher will wind up, like he has been practicing all winter, and put the ball right in the mitt of his catcher. Oh, it is a glorious feeling to step on the field for the first time – whether this season or ever.
Mom’s battery died, and after a four-letter sound of regret, she ushered the little Giant to the outfield where the rest of his team was.
All of a sudden, a big, red, goofy … thing … walked out onto the field. It’s unclear what it was, but it sported a Reno Aces jersey and had the name Archie on the back. So we’ll call it an Archie. The kids cheered as he tossed shirts and high-fived the young players. One little guy from the A’s pulled his hand away before Archie could connect. Too slow, Archie, too slow.
Eventually all the players, coaches actually, organized themselves into their respective teams. The edge of the outfield was painted with beautiful spring colors: Dodgers blue, Giants orange, Angel’s red and Athletics green.
Everyone did an about-face for the National Anthem, belted so flawlessly by Kaitlyn Barrett that kids were still singing it in the dugout before the day’s first game. The flag was tucked amidst the pine trees, where the little leaguers took pictures with wooden bats. They don’t use wooden bats in little league though.
The unidentifiable blob that is Archie took the mound for the ceremonial first pitch. It actually took him two. The first went so far left, that if a batter was in that part of the box, he could have flipped around, swung and it still might’ve been out of reach. But the second hurl lived up to the name on the front of his shirt, and was an ace.
It was the commencement of a season that had already began, but unceremoniously until Saturday. The Yankees and Dodgers took the field first, two old foes who squared off long before these kids were born, and probably long before some of their parents.
But one wasn’t from Brooklyn, and the other didn’t call the Polo Grounds home. They played at Fred Rightmier Field, with red, white and blue banners on the backstop, broken chalk lines and freshly cut grass.