There was a parade that was led down Westmoreland Street by fire engines from the McLean Volunteer Dire Department, appearances by local dignitaries, an introduction of the Langley High School varsity baseball team, speeches by League board members, and numerous awards handed out.
But the hot topic of conversation following Saturday's Opening Day festivities for McLean Little League's (MLL) 49th season surrounded the landing of the Inova Aircare helicopter on a baseball diamond adjacent to the main playing surface at the Fields at Pimmit Hills. It was there, just a couple of hundred feet from the gathering spot of players, parents and coaches following the parade, that McLean's youngsters had their weekend made.
"That was cool," said Mac West, an infielder and pitcher for the Majors division McLean Insurance Phillies. West, joined in centerfield after the ceremony concluded by teammates Joey Shalhoup and Cameron Ayoub, were all in agreement that the landing of the helicopter was the highlight of the day.
"This I think was the best one ever," said Jamie Loving, who has been involved with MLL since 1981 and managed the League's state championship-winning Majors softball team last spring. "The helicopter was certainly a neat thing. They're one of our sponsors, so that was neat that they were able to come and do that. It was a beautiful day, the fields look great, so hopefully it will be a nice season of baseball and softball."
BUT THERE WAS much more than just a helicopter landing as MLL kicked off its season. Virginia state Dels. Vince Callahan (R-34th) and Jim Scott (D-53rd); Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois; Janie Strauss, Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County School Board; and Kevin Fay, Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County Park and Planning Authority, as well as Langley baseball coach Jeff Ferrell, spoke to members of MLL, which this year will field 1,070 players from over 800 families.
"I've been marching in these parades for more than 30 years, and this is the biggest turnout I've seen," Callahan told the crowd.
Baseball and softball teams alike gathered around the diamond on the freshly cut grass on what turned out to be a beautiful morning after a rainy Friday. Scott agreed that the morning provided the perfect setting to begin the season.
"What a wonderful morning, and a grand day to start the Little League season," Scott said. "Let's play ball!"
Fay, who previously served as MLL's president and on Saturday had the League's board room at Pimmit Hills named after him in appreciation for what he has done for the League, said he was excited for the new season and also has an extra incentive to attend games this spring. "You still have the best hot dogs in town here," he said.
Ferrell would later introduce his Saxons, who entered the weekend tied for first place in the Liberty District. A handful of Langley's players played in MLL while growing up, and Ferrell had a few words for the crowd, which likely featured a number of future Langley baseball and softball players.
"Have a great spring season," the coach said. "And please, everyone, come out and support McLean High School and Langley High School."
Ferrell added that this Friday is Little League Night at the McLean/Langley baseball game at Langley at 6:30 p.m.
THE FIELDS AT Pimmit Hills are home to the 1981 Majors American baseball state champions, the '95, '97 and 2003 Seniors softball state champions, and the 1995, '99, 2000, '01 and '03 Majors softball state champions. The fields — notably the main field at the complex — now look immaculate; but that was not always the case.
"I used to play on that little field over there," West said while pointing to a field adjacent to the main diamond. "And they've improved it a lot. It used to be a lot of mud and stuff."
Thanks to the work of volunteers such as Danny Walsh, who was honored for his work on the field, Pimmit Hills is now as fine a Little League complex as there is in Northern Virginia; one that Loving, who has managed the Majors softball program's last four state championship teams, hopes will be home to a fifth title this year.
"I definitely think the 11-12 and 9-10 softball teams will both be very good this year," Loving said. "There are lots of players from those teams that were young last year and will be sort of veterans this year. I think our chances of going back and winning states at both levels are very good."
The MLL season will run through July 19, with the League's 94 teams playing more than 700 games in that span.