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Play Ball!

Opening day, sunshine serve as sure signs of summer

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2003

It would be hard to imagine a surer sign of the impending summer.

Saturday was opening day for Gastineau Channel Little League - a warm, sunny, glorious day - and hundreds of players - assembled team by team - took those first few magical, crunchy steps onto the freshly groomed glacial silt and newly marked chalk of the Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park field.

In the exuberance of the players - the talk of home runs, past wins and future goals - it was clear the high hopes and optimism that mark the start of every Little League season had, once again, returned renewed from the winter hiatus.

The minds of many parents and coaches, as they took in the sea of jerseys spread out across the field, were no doubt reminiscing about their own childhoods - about summers past when they were the ones on the field.

And the reverence given by the younger players to the Juneau-Douglas High School players on hand, and by all present to the national anthem and honored guests, showed that long-held tenets of respect and honor were still strong.

Saturday's ceremony was tradition and decorum and excitement and dreams and memories all rolled into one multi-colored, baseball-capped package under a clear blue sky.

"Usually it's raining (on opening day), and that's just not good because it totally ruins the baseball mood," said Jimmy Ingle, 14, of the Senior League Cardinals team sponsored by Teamsters Union Local 959.

But rain was nowhere in sight Saturday, and the baseball mood for the start of GCLL's 52nd season was, well, out of the park.

After spending a great deal of time getting all the teams on the field - quite a task, given that more than 850 kids have signed up to play in the various GCLL softball and baseball divisions this season - the program got under way.

One of the highlights was the introduction of the defending state champion JDHS baseball and softball teams. The players - most of whom got their start in Little League - ran around the bases, high-fiving as many of the current Little Leaguers as possible.

Six current Crimson Bear baseball players were on a GCLL Junior Division team that came within one win of the Little League World Series in 1999.

"It's cool to see the smiling faces, so excited about baseball," senior Joe Ayers said.

"We were all part of that - it's cool to come back and give them high-fives," senior Zach Kohan said.

The camaraderie on display in the ceremony is, for most players, one of the most important things about being in Little League. Christina Gee, 11, of the Major League Phillies softball team sponsored by Bullwinkle's Pizza, said there was a simple reason why she chose to continue playing this season.

"It's just meeting new friends," she said. "I hope we can all work together and start winning."

Ian Blumenshine, 15, of the Teamsters 959 Cardinals, echoed those sentiments when asked to name the best things about playing baseball.

"Being with your friends, and having fun," he said.

Saturday's ceremonial first-pitch honors went to two local residents - Glen Alt and Mary Jo Hobbs - who have each made a lasting mark on Little League, but in very different ways.

Alt, who threw out the first baseball, has been involved with GCLL since his high school years in the mid-1960s. He was league president in 1973, and continues to serve as a coach.

First-softball honors went to Hobbs, whose family donated the land for Melvin Park - home to countless softball and baseball games every season. The land donation was made in 1967 in memory of Hobbs' son, Melvin Hobbs, who drowned in the Mendenhall River at age 7. Melvin Hobbs loved baseball and - though he was too young to play for Little League teams at the time - was able to play for an Elks Club team before he died.

After Melvin's death, the Hobbs family donated the land to the Elks Club, who later transferred it to the Juneau Parks & Recreation Department.

So for the next few months, hundreds of local kids will take to the fields at Melvin Park, Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park and other venues around town as an age-old tradition continues.

"It's been a great program," said Tate Chapman, coach for the Bullwinkle's Phillies team. "It's all with a common interest - to give the kids something to do, to be constructive, have fun and stay busy."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.



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