Snow melts, thrill of the grass returns |

Snow melts, thrill of the grass returns

Rick Chandler

In most California communities, Little League season creeps up slowly in March and April, on sunny days filled with batting practice, infield drills and lazy laps around the bases.

But in South Lake Tahoe, youth baseball arrives with all the subtlety of a hungry bear on the front porch. One day the local ball yard is covered in snow, and the next it’s covered with Rangers, Giants, Cubs and Rockies – a sudden bloom of sound, motion and color.

“I was really anxious for the season to start,” said Ryan Hudson, 12, a shortstop for the Minor League Reds. “Winter was starting to bug me. You can only play so much Sega Genesis.”

And so it’s official: Spring is here. You know it’s baseball season when the Reds are on the field, fighting the good fight, pounding the horsehide, going to mom for money for the snack bar …

“Where’s Chris?”

The Rockies had a rally underway, and it was Chris Russo’s turn to bat. At first he couldn’t be found, but suddenly he appeared, and strode to the plate. But it was doubtful that Chris would ever see a pitch. Not because he was a feared hitter, but due to the fact that his batting helmet was jammed down so far that the brim covered his eyes.

But behold! A single to center! Sensing glory, the runner on second tried to score on the hit, but was thrown out at the plate – a good tag being applied by Reds catcher Anthony Stagnaro.

“Good job! That’s baseball!” cried Reds coach Neal Trebotich.

The play propelled the Reds to victory; their first win of the young season. Stagnaro, still accepting kudos for the play at home after the game, took advantage of one of his many incentive clauses for a hot dog at the snack bar.

“It’s good to see the kids out here playing ball, because they have so many other interests these days,” said Jim Hudson, who is Ryan’s grandfather. “I’ll be 66 years old in July, and I still recall my sandlot days fondly. Baseball was very important to me as a child. We lived in San Diego then, and my two brothers and I played baseball every day, it seems.

“We didn’t have video games then, or even TV. We heard about Joe DiMaggio on the radio and he was our hero. It’s amazing how little the game has changed.”

Ryan and his grandad then walked over to watch the game being played on the adjoining Major League field at Bijou Elementary School, between the Royals and Pirates. The teams were engaged in a tradition as old as the game itself – the two-out, last-inning rally.

The Pirates held a 10-5 lead going into the top of the sixth (the last inning in Little League baseball), but the Royals struck for two runs with two out.

With runners on second and third, the Royals’ Evan MacLean stepped up to bat. In three previous at-bats, the 12-year-old had three doubles. The Pirates decided they wanted none of that, and walked him intentionally.

With the bases loaded, Steven Lovengier delivered a single to drive in two runs, making it 10-9.

“The pitcher should have been backing up that play,” offered Don Meuser, who was watching the action down the right-field line. Meuser’s grandson, Ryan “Scoop” Bosson, had played in the previous game.

“Still, they play pretty well,” said Meuser, who, one might say, has seen a lot of youth baseball in South Lake Tahoe. He moved here in 1964, and coached Little League from 1970-74.

“The thing that impresses me is that the kids still have a lot of enthusiasm for baseball,” Meuser said. “They have so many material things these days to distract them. Also, there’s other sports like soccer and basketball. But they’re still out here playing the national pastime. That’s good.”

The rally was soon to end, however, with a strikeout.

Royals manager Larry Finkel was philosophical in his post-game remarks.

“You showed a lot of character,” he said to the team. “Hey, where’s Evan? Get over here!”

Finkel, a sales manager at Century 21 Realty, has lived in South Lake Tahoe for 26 years. He decided to come back and coach his 10th Little League season even though his son, Brian, can’t play this year due to a knee injury. But Brian still suits up for every game, and coaches third base.

“It’s too bad we lost,” said Brian. “But we still have a lot of fun.”

Once again proving that even the best day indoors isn’t as good as the worst day outside playing baseball.

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