The morning dew was still on the ground as the first players began arriving at the field with their parents and siblings in tow. Mothers dressed in shirts that proudly displayed their child’s team and number as dads carried bats, gloves and other important items. People waved and smiled, many hugged as if they were seeing each other for the first time in a year, since last season.
The air still held a slight chill, a holdover from the long winter, but the sky was Carolina blue and the green grass in the outfield was a welcome sight. The intoxicating smell of hamburgers and hotdogs being cooked by some anonymous parent to chargrilled perfection hung in the air. The Hawaiian Ice truck found a parking space just behind the concession stand marking the official beginning of spring.
To most, springtime is about shaking off the cold dreary gray of winter and rediscovering the outdoors. For the parents and kids that made it out to Frank Holtzclaw Field in Cliffside today spring is all about something far greater, it’s about baseball. This was after all, Opening Day, the Christmas, Easter and Fourth of July for sports fans rolled into one and it truly is a community event.
The P.A. system crackled to life as the day’s festivities officially began. The announcer introduced the teams one at a time, calling out each player as they ran out onto the field. By the time every name had been called there were almost three hundred boys and girls ranging from four to eighteen crowding the infield.
One man has had this day circled on his calendar for quite some time. His name is Jason Gowan and today he is easy to spot because he’s the most nervous fellow in the crowd. As the first-year president of Chase Little League it is his responsibility to organize and pull this mammoth event together.
“The most exciting thing about opening day is seeing the kids play and have fun. It’s baseball,” an enthusiastic Gowan commented between innings. “My fondest memory is hearing my name called out, getting that one hit and making my parents proud.”
Gowan believes in the importance of sports in a child’s life and the need for parents and coaches to invest in them.
“Coaching building the kid’s future is important. Little league to me is not about winning, not about losing. You teach your kids to win and how to lose gracefully. It’s about making a difference in that kid's life.”
There was an unmistakable look of pride on the kids as they donned their uniforms and bonded with their new teammates. Their laughter was evidence that they enjoyed being here, that this was important to them.
Gowan spoke about the heart of the league, “Mostly, we’ve got great parents but for a few we are a babysitting service. This may be the only time that some of these kids get a pat on the back for doing a good job. If we can get a kid to smile, make a catch, hit a ball, teach them a life lesson, then it’s worth us doing this. That’s why we’re here.”
The action on the field moved steadily along throughout the day. The 9-10 girls softball game drew interest as the diligence and patience of the coaches shined with their players. Of course, everyone wants to win, but repeatedly the importance of sportsmanship and learning trumped competition. As Gowan had pointed out, there were life lessons to be taught and learned and here it was on display.
As the day drew to a close, a bright-eyed young man by the name of Bo Allen sported a blue uniform that read Wells and Jenkins. Gowan had explained how important sponsors are to covering the financial costs of running such a large organization and how the names of the sponsors are on every uniform.
“Last year I was in the pitcher machine and it got by everybody and I got to home," Allen said when asked of his favorite baseball memory. "I just started smiling and my dad was videotaping it.” Needless to say, Allen still watches the video.
As the families packed up and headed back to their cars it was obvious that baseball is much more than just a game. It is a bonding experience that is not just important to the kids that play but to the communities in which they live. It not only brings fathers and sons and mothers and daughters together but neighbors as well.
It is easy to imagine that this is what Mr. Herbert Linder had in mind when he and his wife Betty founded the Chase Little League 40 years ago. He knew the importance of creating a place where one generation could pass down the important things in life to the next generation one out at a time.