For some, spring signals the much-anticipated arrival of two things: warm weather and baseball. Fairfax residents got a taste of both on Saturday, when parents and youngsters embraced sunny skies amid the fanfare of Little League Opening Day.
Around 2,000 people showed up for the Vienna Little League Opening Day at Yeonas Park, where spectators of all ages gathered to witness a number of traditional ceremonies. The Star Spangled Banner was sung by a local choir of eighth-graders, followed by a performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by The Vienna Jammers, an electronic percussion group made up of kids from area elementary schools.
Another highlight included the recognition of Honor Roll members, former Little League players and coaches who came out to enjoy the festivities. About 15-20 Honor Roll members were introduced and recognized for their accomplishments.
“It’s great to see people in their 70’s and older coming out and supporting the league and still showing an interest in the community and the kids. It’s a good feeling,” said Bill Cervenak, Chairman of the Vienna Little League.
In accordance with another long-held tradition, several area high school seniors arrived to show their continued support of the league that introduced them to baseball. A number of players from the Madison varsity team showed up, along with players from Oakton and Marshall. Among the Warhawks in attendance was Andy McGuire, a senior shortstop who has led Madison to a 9-1 start this season. McGuire fielded questions from Cervenak about his experience winning a gold medal at the IBAF 18U Championship in South Korea last year, showing the kids on hand just how far baseball can take them.
Another inspirational speaker was senior second baseman Hailey Leviton, the only female member of the Marshall High baseball team. There were a few girls among the Little League players in the audience, each of whom was encouraged to continue favoring baseball over softball.
“That was a real surprise for them and nice for them to see,” said Mike Jreige, the league’s Special Events Coordinator. “They see that, ‘Hey, I can keep playing baseball all the way through high school if I’m that good.”
A challenger game for children with disabilities was followed by a slate of regular season games for Little League teams in each age group. Aside from a little rust showing here and there, players on each team put on a good show, thanks to practices that have been held nearly every day since the end of February. Greg Wymer, manager of the White Sox Majors team, explained that his players braved freezing rain, sleet and snow to get ready for Opening Day weekend.
“This year I think we practiced three times in the snow. That’s a first,” said Wymer, whose team beat the Cubs, 9-0, on Saturday. “I’ve done that before, but not that many times. Practice after practice it’s been cold, and a lot of times we don’t get fields until 7 at night, and it’s cold and windy. But hey, they’re here, they’re playing and learning. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Throngs of parents and kids also gathered at Byron Avenue Park for West Springfield Little League’s Opening Day. As was the case at Yeonas Park, the crowd included unaffiliated adults who simply came out to enjoy the atmosphere.
The playing of the National Anthem coincided with the Colors presented by Boy Scout Pack 686. WSLL Chief Umpire Scott Dias then recognized Doug Lamb, Jacob Pearl, Frank Smith and Alex McAnallen for umpiring more than 30 games last year. Smith and McAnallen were presented the Iron Man Award for umpiring the most games by an adult and a youth.
League president Greg Adams honored special guest Nick Balenger, a Lake Braddock senior who started playing baseball at WSLL at age 6. Balenger, who suffered a spinal cord injury last July, rose from his wheelchair to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Brian Bachman, a member of the West Springfield American All-Star team Balenger helped coach to a state championship last summer.