Let’s play (snow)ball!
Most surrounding towns begin a month earlier and play in temperatures 20 to 30 degrees warmer.
So why are 607 South Tahoe Little Leaguers ready to strap on the leather and “ping” in another season Friday?
“You see the kids walking out there when it’s been snowing and a lot of them are just playing in T-shirts,” said Fred Mercado, second-year president of the South Tahoe Little League who oversees a 17-member board and 10 major, 15 farm, nine minor and 10 T-ball teams. “The kids are tough. They go out and play in all types of weather.
“Managers and coaches really stick it out. They want to play as much as the kids want to.”
Whether it’s truly a passion or the warm feeling of sharing something mom and pop did when they were kids, the arrival of Little League season arouses boys and girls worldwide.
“There’s no greater age to be around boys and girls than 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds. They just want your attention so desperately, saying, ‘Hey, look what I can do,’ and there’s something refreshing about their innocense,” said Dan Wilvers, who is managing the Cubs of the major division for a sixth and final season.
A smile forms on Mercado’s face every season when “I see a kid that doesn’t get a hit all year, get one at the end of the season.”
For Mark Shehadi, who has coached Babe Ruth teams for three years and Little-Leaguers for the past two, the arrival of the Little League seaons brings back a legion of positive experiences and the advent of one of his passions in life.
“I love baseball. I love the game, the strategies, teaching kids the fundamentals and I love the ones who learn the fundamentals from you and go out and do exactly what they’ve been taught and get a big smile on their faces when they execute them. And nothing can replace that smile,” Shehadi said.
“”It’s a wonderful feeling. It feels good to do exactly that … to give back that which was given to me as a Little League player.”
Shehadi played Little League in South Lake Tahoe in 1976-78 has seen the game become challenged by other warm-weather sports – chiefly soccer.
“With soccer and track available and getting the kids to all of the commitments they’ve made, the biggest challenge is getting them to show up for baseball,” Shehadi said. “But not much has changed, just the faces.”
Shehadi’s wife, Terri, is the only female manager in the major division. Entering her second season as manager of the Shehadi Motors club, she feels comfortable teaching the male-dominated game.
“I’ve always gotten the boys respect. Once you go out to practice and slide into a base, throw a ball or hit one over the fence, they realize that you’re not kidding around and you can do it as well as anybody else,” she said.
An army of volunteers and generous sponsors and contributors make the rite of youth possible. In South Lake Tahoe, a typical season costs between $40,000 and $50,000, according to Mercado.
Active sponsors such as Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort and the Optimists Club, which outfit three teams, and volunteers like John and Cindy Gerken make the two-month season special.
“The Gerkens are one of the major reaons why we’ve been operating in the black the last couple of years. Their devotion to Little League has been unparalleled,” Mercado said of the couple who operate the snack shack.
The addition of Kahle Park as a playing venue last year eased the schedule overload. But Mercado says the league could use at least one more field – a major reason why the South Shore doesn’t hold postseason all-star tournaments.
“They move the all-star tournaments around to different locations, but we don’t have enough fields. We really only have two fields, and they like to keep tournaments at one facility with a minimum of three fields,” Mercado said.
Some improvements to look for this season are the addition of bleachers and a scoreboard at Kahle Park and block dugouts, a score shack and an equipment room at the minor field.
The excitment and anticpation of a new season follows opening ceremonies Friday at 5 p.m.
While many children will be embarking on their Little League careers on Friday, the more distinguished Babe Ruthers will open their season on Sunday at Todd Fields.
Opening ceremonies begin at 11:30 a.m., with the first game between the Yankees and Pirates to follow at noon.
The league is devoting its season to locals Bill and Ester Cusac.
“For over 20 years they have helped Babe Ruth baseball in every area imaginable,” said Babe Ruth President Roxanne Behrendsen. “Not only has Bill served on the board of directors as umpire in chief, he has been manager for Senior Babe Ruth. He has been scorekeeper and has provided many hours of maintenance and preparation. He has also helped fund-raise monies necessary to run a successful program.”
They will he honored during the opening ceremonies.
Community members can support the league by sponsoring a team for $10 in the 100-inning softball fund-raising game scheduled for the softball field beside Todd Fields. There will also be a silent auction that will include passes at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, dinners and cruises on Lake Tahoe. A concession stand will also be set up.
Team sponsors and managers for this season include: Norm’s Auto Repair Yankees, Joseph Russo; South Tahoe Refuse Rangers, Joel Osborne; Tahoe Keys Marina Cardinals, John Mason; Meeks Pirates, Steve Bobeda; Barton Memorial Hospital A’s, Zapp; South Tahoe Plumbing Supply Giants, Ernie Fredericks; Horizon Casino Resort Diamondbacks, Bob Engler; A.M. Construction Rockies, Andy Mora; F. Jones Mobile Diesel Repair Mainers, Steve Weldy; Reardon Realty Devil Rays, Pat Reardon; and Accurate Audio Video Marlins, Steve O’Brien. Joseph W. Tillson, attorney at law, will sponsor the Senior Babe Ruth team managed by David Santee.
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