The other day I was talking with my friend Tom who had just finished coaching practice. He told me Encinitas Little League starts March 5. Opening day begins at 8:30 a.m. with an estimated 450 Encinitas children celebrating with picture day and a home run derby.
A couple days later I bumped into former Little League President and current Vice Chairperson of Encinitas Parks and Rec Steve Valois. In celebrating the league’s 50th anniversary, Steve had dressed in a vintage Yankees uniform and said of Little League, “It’s sunflower seeds, it’s cracker jacks, it’s rally caps, it’s buying a new mitt, it’s playing catch with Dad.”
Steve and I talked a bit about the impact of Little League in our life. As local iconic sports hero Tom Dempsey said, “Little League is the first time you get a team experience and you learn that nobody does anything alone.”
I asked Steve about the Little League Pledge and he let me know Encinitas Little League promotes “the ideals of good sportsmanship, honesty, loyalty and courage.”
With a smile I got to thinking about playing catch with Dad and my Little League experience. Our opening days were sponsored by the good people of Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Knights of Columbus.
I would ride my bike and meet up with my teammates the twins, Peter and Paul. Then we’d go get Mouse and Kenny and we would ride our bikes to practice with our mitts and bats slid over and between our handlebars. Nobody had a batting glove and only Buddy Stewart had cleats. The rest of us wore our sneakers.
We got our uniforms one week before opening day. The uniforms were handed down season to season and there was a chance your older brother had worn the same uniform a few seasons before. They were made of wool and they itched. Having been in storage for the winter they smelled like dirty mothballs that never went away no matter how many times mom washed them.
Being hand-me-downs the uniforms were droopy and baggy. The only thing that fit right were the new baseball hats we got but our parents made us get those two sizes too big so we could grow into them.
I loved those uniforms! The smell of the leather glove pressed to my face, the sting of the bat on a line drive, the pop of the mitt in making a play, cheering for my teammates, the blowing bubbles, hitting the cut off, turning second, chatter, hmmm baby!
My coaches were Mr. Moody and Mr. Glidden. We learned being part of a team came with responsibilities and commitment to each other. One was being on time. As my dad says, you don’t want to miss the boat. If you were late on your bike Mr. Moody would make you run laps and pick up all the gear after practice. You were usually late only once.
I learned that in life and baseball I would experience adversity, failure and success. Stranding a runner at third, not getting a bunt down, missing the relay. What was most important was how we practiced, how we prepared, how we performed, that we did our best and we kept improving.
I learned that being successful at the plate and in business four out of every 10 times would have me hitting .400, Teddy William’s Hall of Fame kind of success. In my final year with the help of a “few ground balls with eyes” and “dying quails” our team played well enough to win the championship. Nobody does anything alone. We were the only 15 Little Leaguers in our city that year to win trophies.
On our opening day we all stood along the first or third baselines in our hand-me-down, ill fitting, scratchy, smelly uniforms and read with vigor and smiles The Little League Pledge, written by the president of Little League in 1954 and sent to President Eisenhower in 1955.
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 always do my best
I am glad our Encinitas Little League is continuing to promote these ideals. We will be a better community and nation if the next generation continues promoting the values of community, honesty and self-sufficiency. I want to thank my dad, Mr. Moody, Mr. Glidden and the good people of Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, VFW and the Knights of Columbus for helping me experience Little League. I can’t help but think we would all be well-served if our elected officials took the Little League Pledge the next time special interests ask them to “play ball.”