For parents with baseball bats and balls scattered throughout the house, the wait is finally over. No more cancelled school days, no more polar vortices, no more practices in the parking lot, no more “Don’t throw that in here!” The kids are back on the diamond, and Little League is back on the calendar.
Opening day festivities greeted thousands of families around the area on Saturday morning, as leagues celebrated their annual rituals of springtime excitement amid blue skies and nippy wind. Players marched alongside local dignitaries in parades across the county, while several league administrators took a step back to smile at the record registration numbers before their eyes.
The McLean Little League is among those enjoying increased participation this spring. According to league president Chris Shue, MLL has signed up a record 1,282 players on 106 teams. Shue credits the rise in part to a new Little League rule that no longer confines kids to leagues in their home districts. If their school lies outside their home district, players now have the option of competing in either district. A kid living in Springfield but attending the Potomac School, for example, could play in the West Springfield Little League or the McLean Little League.
The MLL has also benefitted from the attention garnered by its softball all-star team, which advanced all the way to the World Series in Portland last August. A special recognition ceremony at Furr Field honored the team’s accomplishment on Saturday.
“The great thing is it’s raised the visibility of softball,” Shue said. “Anecdotally I can say we’ve got more girls playing softball, but I don’t think we’ll understand the impact until a year or two out. But there’s definitely been a noticeable bump in registration.”
The MLL’s parade down Westmoreland Street featured Del. Barbara Comstock (R-Dist. 34) and Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D-McLean), along with an array of fire trucks and convertibles. The McLean and Langley baseball and softball teams joined the fun, as did The Potomac School’s baseball squad.
The star of the show, though, was Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, the father of two MLL players this year. Following Jason Werth’s lead last year, LaRoche threw out the ceremonial first pitch to a player from each division: Anna Takis (softball), Jack Hoeymans (baseball) and Robbie Bianco (Challenger).
“[LaRoche is] obviously the embodiment of teamwork and good sportsmanship. You see how he plays,” Shue said. “The kids really look up to him, and the parents look up to him because he’s so approachable. He’s very unassuming, and that goes a long way at McLean Little League. And the kids just love that huge beard.”
About 1,500 people gathered at Cub Run Elementary School for Southwestern Youth Association’s opening day, which featured Fairfax County Supervisors Michael Frey (R-Sully) and Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) alongside the baseball teams from Westfield and Centreville high schools. Uncle Slam from the Potomac Nationals also made an appearance.
SYA league president Bob Woodruff noted a 3 percent increase in registration this year. SYA has 681 participants signed up this spring, spanning 68 teams from the T-ball level through the Majors.
Centreville baseball coach Scott Findley joined Westfield coach Rob Hahne in encouraging the youngsters to continue enjoying and learning the game so that they can continue at the high school level in future years. Findley ran into his former little league coach, James Milburn, who brought along a picture of an 11-year-old Findley standing alongside his father and two teammates.
“It’s one of my favorite days of the year, and I’m not just saying that,” said Findley, whose team squares off against Westfield on SYA Night this Friday. “I think our kids are starting to better understand how important it is to be involved. I think they’re starting to see how much of an impact they really do have.”
Fairfax Little League held its traditional parade on Fairfax Boulevard that included a Fairfax City police escort, the American Legion Post 177 Color Guard and Legion Riders, a fire engine from Fairfax City, 14 dignitaries in convertibles and Challenger teams in Fairfax City Public Works trucks. National Symphony Orchestra member Glenn Donnellan conducted the National Anthem on the electric violin he created from a Louisville Slugger bat. FLL president Lisa Alecxih also reported increased registration numbers, as 1,100 players have signed up on 94 teams, up from 91 last year.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Dist. 11) and supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) joined high school players from South Lakes, Herndon and Madison at Reston Little League’s parade at the Reston Town Center. The league also held a ceremony Friday night at Brown’s Chapel Park, where lights were installed during the offseason to make it the first lit baseball field in Reston. According to league president Jason Walker, RLL added two new teams this year and is up from 675 to 698 in total player registration.