Jay Paris: Champions League is a hit for the right reasons

He stood at Petco Park’s home plate, with cheers coming from appreciative players hugging the foul lines.

“That was really cool,’’ Alex Rejto said.

So is Alex Rejto.

Rejto, 17, was honored by the Padres as they saluted Hispanic community leaders. He was surrounded by love on this night, the type that is returned when others recognize a role model.

Carlsbad’s Rejto is just that.

Despite being a teenager, he’s someone adults should emulate. The players on those foul lines emphasized the point.

Rejto, a Canyon Crest Academy senior, noticed a need three years ago. While appreciating the Miracle League for special-needs baseball players in neighboring Solana Beach, Rejto put the ball in motion for a league Carlsbad could call its own: the Champions League.

“It’s not really an original idea,’ said Rejto, a shortstop for CCA. “But it comes through my love of baseball.’’

As an eighth-grader, Rejto sought a community project. With baseball and certain kids in mind, he applied for a Rancho Santa Fe Association grant for the Champions League.

His pitch for these unique athletes was approved. Some 17 players of various ages and skill levels were soon swinging away through this offshoot of the La Costa Youth Organization.

The Champion Leaguers were joined by 30 buddies helping at Stagecoach Park, with its forgiving turf field that minimized skinned knees and maximized fun for those in wheelchairs.

“Although I wasn’t really sure what I was doing,’’ Rejto said with a laugh.

There are always chuckles at Champion League games and isn’t that what youth sports are about?

“It’s really a cool thing to be a part of,’’ Rejto said. “Everyone who joins the league, if they stay in town, they come back the next year and bring their friends.’’

The Champions League just finished its third season with its arrow pointed up.

It has grown to 70 players — with uniforms provided by the Padres — on six teams in three-age groups with 200 volunteers.

That much we know. What’s debatable is who gets the most from the Champions League — the players or their buddies?

“That’s a good question because it is really a humbling experience,’’ said Rejto, whose CCA teammates are among those assisting. “It’s incredible to see these kids — some of them can’t run and can barely walk — play baseball to their level. All of them improve throughout the season.’’

It’s always a season for a reason.

After hanging with Champion Leaguers, Rejto and his CCA teammates approach baseball with a different slant.

“It’s humbling because you see these (Champion League) guys struggle every day, but they are having fun playing baseball,’’ Rejto said. “So now when you look at yourself, or a teammate after they strike out, we now have a huge perspective. It’s seeing that this game is just about having fun and those kids are doing that.’’

On game days, Rejto does this and that and whatever else is needed.

He shines as a buddy, taking an interest in any kid no matter how they might hold the bat.

He’s also a gem on the microphone, making each player feel keen by saying their name and providing warm commentary.

And contests feature a sincere pre-and post-game scene: those with special needs getting special attention from Rejto and friends.

“The players get to hang out with the buddies and the buddies hang out with the players,’’ Rejto said. “That is a really big deal.’’

Thanks to a teenager with a really big heart.

 

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

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