Little League season blows in
Eighty degrees, the enticing smell of a barbecue and parents cautiously applying suntan lotion to innocent faces. Those were the conditions for Little Leaguers somewhere in Southern California or Arizona on Saturday. South Lake Tahoe’s kids instead endured a harsh reminder that only a week ago a foot of snow fell in the Tahoe Basin.
Even though the flakes stayed away, strong winds buffeted the fields, stirring up dust storms and blowing new baseball caps off the heads of excited youngsters.
“It wasn’t like this in the bigs but in Albuquerque it was,” said former Major League pitcher Mike Hartley, who coaches the Minor A Cardinals of the South Tahoe Little League.
But the children didn’t seem to mind the unpleasant conditions because baseball will encompass their lives over the next six or seven weeks.
“I missed not seeing my friends,” Kyle Lipscombe, 10, a first-year major player for the Rangers. “I like being on the team and catching the ball.”
“It was pretty amazing because I hadn’t done it for a long time,” said Jamison Bobo of the Safeway Blue Jays of the Farm League. “This morning I thought it was going to be really windy and when the ball sails it’s gonna go to the opposite direction, but it works out.”
Parents clustered their lawn chairs down foul lines, promoting body warmth, not wanting to miss their child’s clutch catch or big hit.
“You’ve got to like each other because you’re sharing that body heat,” joked league president Jerry Weldy.
“It makes all the headaches, all the phone calls and all the late nights worthwhile,” said the league’s player agent Patti Stuck of opening weekend. “Everyone is having fun and the kids are playing ball. It’s finally fun.”
Ellen Lagerback spent most of the weekend passing out candy to be sold by players over the next month. The fund-raiser is off to a fast start thanks to Lagerback’s 7-year-old daughter, Hannah.
“I know Hannah has already sold herself a bunch. She keeps bringing me money,” Lagerback said.
On Friday, the league enjoyed its second-best opening day barbecue moneymaker ever.
“We had tons of people here. It was just wonderful,” Weldy said.
Hartley’s Cardinals opened with a loss in Minor A ball – one of the league’s five divisions to start play Friday or Saturday – but he didn’t seem to mind.
“I have a bunch of good guys and they work hard,” said the former Dodgers pitcher. “Right now I just try to keep them safe and move them around a little bit and try and keep everybody happy.”
With more baseball knowledge to pass along than many coaches and manager, Hartley doesn’t feel any added pressure to meet parents’ expectations.
“I’ve had it pretty easy. Kids respond to me well,” he said. “As long as they’re happy and I’m happy, everything is good.”
Opening weekend was only the start of good times for area Little Leaguers.
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