In an annual Opening Day tradition, the heroes of the Lower Loudoun Little League --– the players themselves – were escorted to Bill Washington Field last Saturday morning. One by one, pick-up vehicles, loudly honking their horns, escorted groups of youth baseball teams along the parade of festively route, which began at Park View High School and worked its way to the central home ballpark site at Bill Washington.
Once there, youngsters exited the vehicles and, with joyous faces, worked their way onto the ball field where they gathered with their respective teammates around the shallow outfield grass. There were the Yankees players in their dark blue jerseys, as well as the A’s in their nifty green tops and the Nationals, attired in their home-town brilliant red.
Youngsters from the Mets, sporting their orange jersey tops, yelled out in unison, `Let’s Go Mets, Let’s Go Mets.’
Young members of the Twins had their first names stretched across the back of their dark blue tops. There was `Nicky,’ `Perry’ and `Frank,’ to name a few.
<b>INDEED</b>, it was a wondrous and celebratory occasion for Lower Loudoun’s 45th Opening Day festivities, where the league’s 850-plus youngsters, along with parents, family members, coaches, league officials and community members, gathered on a beautiful spring day to welcome in the new season.
Parents took pictures of the players with their teammates. "You guys look very spirited," said one photographer, as she got the young players to pose for a shot.
The ball-playing youngsters, in their wide assortment of uniform colors, happily chatted with one another, all thoroughly enjoying the start of the new season.
Down the first base area of the field, young Phillies left hander Alex James, with fans all around him watching his every move, threw warm-up pitches to a catcher in the bullpen area.
Behind the backstop, parents and onlookers filled a couple of bleachers. And all down the first base side of the field were other onlookers, all taking in the Opening Day moment and all wanting to be a part of the special occasion.
<b>THE DAY’S</b> theme, `Celebrating Our Future, Honoring Our Past,’ centered around the anniversary of the historic Sterling area organization, which first `Played Ball’ in the spring of 1963.
But what Opening Day 2008 will most be remembered for is the re-naming of the home ballpark from Bill Washington Field to Jeff Cobb Field at Bill Washington Park.
The dramatic name change, announced during the Opening Day ceremonies, honors the deceased Cobb, a former Loudoun Little League board member and umpire who died of cancer in February of 2007.
League officials paid tribute to Cobb.
"He was a hard working person and very supportive to me in my years as [league] president," said an emotional Lynn Davis, who is currently the organization’s American League Vice President.
Cobb’s adult son, Jeremy, was on hand for the special re-naming of the field tribute in honor of his father.
Moments earlier, former league umpire Seth Brown sang the National Anthem to officially begin the Opening Day formalities.
Brown also spoke a few words to the crowd, saying, "It’s a new baseball season. It’s wonderful weather and wonderful to be out here in all its revelry."
Brown then dedicated the Anthem to past and current American soldiers as well as to Cobb, his former friend.
"He was very critical to our league," said Brown, of Jeff Cobb.
Young Michael Pittinger, a member of the Red Sox, recited the Little League Pledge to the large crowd.
Then, Linda Baker, a representative from Virginia’s District 10 Little League, spoke to the league parents about their roles in supporting the youngsters.
"I’ve seen some fantastic parents, and not so great ones," Baker told the listeners. "The important thing is we’re here for our children and the other children. Make sure you cheer for your kids and your team, but the other kids too. Don’t hesitate to cheer great plays by [opponents]."
She then got the parents to recite `The Parent Pledge,’ which states, "I will teach all children to play fair and to do their best. I will positively support all managers, coaches and players. I will respect decisions of the umpires. I will praise good effort despite the outcome of the games."
Mary Beth Pittinger, the Lower Loudoun Little League President, oversaw the Opening Day ceremonies. She encouraged league supporters, saying, "We have some of the best parents, supporters and fans. Cheer everybody on. …Managers and coaches, remember, these kids look up to you. How will they remember you 45 years from now? We do take good sportsmanship seriously here."
Later, to close the ceremonies, young Alex James, the Phillies southpaw who earlier had been warming up, was called upon to throw out the season’s first pitch. His batterymate for the occasion was catcher Jimmy Gallagher of the Angels.
Just like that, the start of a new season had arrived.