Jay Paris: Encinitas Little League in the red

The red coats are coming. And the red shirts and well, the red caps, too.

“They really like to get the red on,’’ Todd Sleet said. “It’s a pride thing and they love to come back.’’

Sleet is the Encinitas Little League president. He watches with amazement at ELL All-Star games, when ex-players and coaches arrive in red to support the neighborhood tykes.

Some of those faded red T-shirts are taut with bulging midsections. Maybe those weathered red hats are covering a bald spot instead of youthful locks.

“I’ve seen guys from the 1980s and 1990s that have pulled stuff out from the back of their closet,’’ Sleet said. “A big part of our league is our history.’’

True enough, considering the first pitch was heaved in 1957 down at the Moonlight Beach field, when ELL was North San Dieguito Little League.

A rough calculation reveals some 25,000 children have chanted, “hey batter, batter” and are their any sweeter words on a warm Saturday afternoon?

While ELL is long in the tooth it has done something fresh. It fielded four age-group teams in District 31 All-Star tournaments and dang if they didn’t go all Tony Gwynn: 4 for 4.

Actually ELL went a combined 18-1 to win all four events.

“We know it’s never happened in District 31 by a league and we’re not sure about south San Diego County,’’ Sleet said. “But no one can remember it being done.’’

Well done, ELL and just what’s brewing in this 503-player league that starts each February?

“I think it says the community really believes in our league,’’ said Sleet, who’s ending his third year as the head honcho, with many clamoring for his return. “The parents are a big part of what we do; it starts with getting the kids to practice. Then it’s the coaches that put in countless hours. Then it’s the board of directors and the work they do.’’

It’s also about location and ELL’s comes up roses — or is it poinsettias?

After three years at Moonlight Beach, ELL moved to its current site at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA in the early 1960s. Years ago when the Ecke family donated the land for the YMCA, presto, a first-class, four-field baseball facility was built, too.

Add an epic skateboard park and at some point, the roar of the crowd and the crack of the bat is heard by all.

“Being at the YMCA the younger kids start watching the older kids play,’’ Sleet said, and that plants the ELL seed.

With anything that blossoms, someone had to till the land. Sleet said this record-breaking postseason was in the works for some time. He mentions the leadership of previous ELL presidents, Rich Ritchie and Steve Valois.

“It just has been building and building,’’ said Sleet, whose three sons have ELL roots. “People ask ‘how did this happen’ and I say ‘it’s been a decade-long transformation.’ Hopefully now that we are at this pinnacle the other kids will see it and this will continue for years.’’

Play continues on Friday for ELL’s 11-and 12-year-old squad in the Section 6 tournament. It faces Oceanside National, the District 70 champion, in a North Coast showdown at San Diego’s Chollas Lake Little League.

“We have a really, really sound team and we haven’t depended on any single person,’’ ELL coach Chaz Gagne said. “Every kid has contributed equally. We’ve had six kids pitch and we are hitting pretty much up and down the lineup. We are balanced.’’

Not bad for a community with youth more associated with hanging 10 than hoisting another title banner at the snack shop.

ELL has four new ones and it could just be getting warmed up.

“We’re a beach town but there is nothing laid-back about those kids,’’ Sleet said. “They have so much drive that they want to practice every single day and get better.’’

Without getting arrogant.

“We are not in it to embarrass anyone or to degrade our opponents,’’ Sleet stressed. “We show respect for the game and we respect the opposing players. ‘‘

It’s easy to find where ELL is playing — just look for the color that sits atop a traffic signal.

“It’s awesome with everyone out there wearing red,’’ Gagne said. “There are a lot of ELL fans, former coaches and players that come out.

“And the kids understand that. This year has been building for years, really since 1957. And they feel a part of that.’’

So much, that ELL’s boys of summer are seeing red.

Contact staff writer Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports

 

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