Opening Day marks the return of youth baseball

Matthew Dean
Coach Brian McLean of the Peninsula Light team Golden Hawks leads his players in reciting the Little League Pledge. Photo by Ed Johnson, KP News Young athletes and their families turned out in droves March 19 for the annual festivities surrounding Key Peninsula Little League's (KPLL) Opening Day Jamboree. While early weather reports indicated rain, that didn’t stop parents and children from packing Volunteer Park to celebrate the beginning of a new season. Luckily for players and spectators alike, the showers tapered off.
The ceremony began with a general assembly on the main field. The first step was the introduction of the new season’s players and coaches: each team jogged out and stood in formation on the infield as music blared and the audience cheered. Every bracket of KPLL play was represented, from the bewildered but enthusiastic first-year tee-ball players to the world-weary teenagers of the senior league. After all the teams had gathered and nearly 100 young baseball players stood in the infield, KPLL President Lee Miller took the microphone to thank the volunteers and sponsors that make KPLL a reality. He also praised the Volunteer Park fields and announced an upcoming field renovation that will include brand-new stadium lights for late-running games. “We’ll be able to play under the lights next year, starting 2017,” he said to general applause and approval. After the team introductions and speeches were done, the players removed their caps and turned toward the flagpole in the center of the park as softball player Tara-Lynn Perkins delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem. Then came the Pledge of Allegiance and the Little League Pledge, a short refrain where players recite, “I trust in God, I love my country, and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win, but win or lose I will do my best.” The ceremony concluded with recognition of last year’s League All-Stars and ceremonial first pitches thrown by honorees from last year’s groups. With the opening formalities finished, the teams scattered immediately to the other three baseball, softball and tee-ball fields located at Volunteer Park. There was a short lull as players warmed up for games and parents flocked to the park’s own Home Base Concessions. The day’s games were fairly short affairs, consisting of four or five inning scrimmage matches between the various KPLL teams in preparation for full-length games against out-of-league teams in the coming weeks. First-day jitters were evident, with errant pitches and missed catches plaguing even the most experienced players. Despite these early mistakes, coaches took advantage of the practice-game format to identify and correct errors, and many players were showing marked improvement by the end of the contest. The day was a hopeful start to another year of community-building team sports and athletics on the Key Peninsula’s baseball fields. For many, KPLL is popular simply “because it’s a great opportunity to play baseball,” as one young player put it, but for the volunteer coaches and managers the motivation is deeper. “At the end of the day, the baseball is just a tool,” said Kip Miller, a seven year KPLL coach. “It’s all about the kids; we’re here for them, to keep them out of trouble, and to teach them to be better kids.”