Imagine what it would be like to combine both Opening Day and Hall of Fame inductions. Both are two of the highest imaginable reasons to celebrate the national pastime for any baseball fan.
On April 25, the Lower Loudoun Little League had a chance to experience both rituals. Along with its annual Opening Day festivities, which have been a staple event of the popular youth organization since 1963, the league also inducted its first-ever Hall of Fame class.
The ball players themselves ruled the day, making their way onto the showcase Jeff Cobb Field, located at the youth league’s home facility at Bill Washington Park in Sterling. The boys and girls, attired in their sparkling, colorful uniforms, entered the ball field with their respective teams. It was the final stretch of the early morning,
pre-ceremonies’ parade that takes place every year, in which the youngsters, perched atop horn-honking pick-up vehicles, enjoy the parade route that begins at nearby Park View High School and makes its way to Bill Washington Park.
Once the players arrived, the Opening Day formalities began with the playing of the National Anthem, and that was followed by the reciting of the Little League Baseball Pledge. Mary Beth Pittinger, the league president, was the master of ceremonies. Standing near the pitcher’s mound and using a microphone, Pittinger spoke to the large gathering of players, sitting along the outskirts of the infield, as well as to parents, friends and community members who were on-hand for the day. She stressed the importance volunteers play within the league, and encouraged adults to be positive onlookers and role models at ball games.
"Praise the effort even if it isn’t the outcome that you want," she said. "Praise the efforts that the players, coaches and umpires put in."
She soon asked the league umpires to come out and be recognized. The men in blue lined up along the first base line.
"These guys are out here so our players can have fairly called games," Pittinger said, acknowledging the umpires. "And they do it all for two hot dogs and a soda."
<b>JIM POTTER</b>, in charge of public affairs for Lower Loudoun Little League, was then brought out to introduce the league’s first Hall of Fame class. One by one, Potter gave a brief biographical sketch of the four new inductees: Jason Bagby, Bev Carroll, Paul Earle and Jeff Cobb, the latter being selected posthumously.
Bagby was inducted based on career achievement as a player and his contributions in enhancing the league’s reputation within the community.
"It’s an unbelievable honor," Bagby, who was part of two state title winning Lower Loudoun Little League All-Star teams during his playing days, told the audience. "It’s been 25 years since I first played on this field. The things I remember most are my friends, some of them life-long, and my coaches."
Bagby, after his Little League days, went on to become a First Team All-State baseball player at Broad Run High School, where he was part of the Spartans’ state title team of 1991. He is currently co-owner and director of baseball operations of Diamond Sports Training. There, he teaches the game he loves.
Carroll was inducted based on his volunteer achievements along with his numerous other contributions to the league. He coached for eight years, along with being at the helm of three league All-Star teams, and served on the league’s Board of Directors from 1996-2003 as vice president. As Bat-A-Thon chairman for three years, he helped raise $400,000 that led to the purchases of what are today known as Jeff Cobb and Jack Jennings Fields at Bill Washington Park.
"It gives me chills to step on this field again," Carroll said upon being recognized.
The next inductee was Cobb, who died in February of 2007 at age 61. Selected posthumously to the Hall, his wife stood in his place for the induction ceremonies.
Cobb, who now has the main ball field named after him, was a major presence within the league. He coached throughout the 1990s and guided the league through trying financial times. In 1997 he became league coordinator of both the Juniors and Seniors League baseball divisions. He headed the effort for Lower Loudoun in hosting the 2001 Junior State Baseball Tournament. And, over the years, he also served as an umpire for both league and All-Star tournament games.
The final individual to be inducted was Earle, on the basis of his volunteer efforts for the league. A coach or umpire in the league since 1995, Earle, who grew up playing Little League baseball in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has always stressed baseball fundamentals to his teams. He said the highlight of his years involved in youth sports was coaching his four children.
<b>LATER IN THE OPENING DAY</b> ceremonies, following the Hall of Fame inductions, special guest speaker Joe Klein, the former general manager of the Texas Rangers and current executive director of the Atlantic League (independent minor league), spoke to the ball players. He stressed to the youngsters the importance of being part of a team and giving their best effort.
"You’re going to learn team work," he said. "Listen to your parents and coaches. Sports are a great vehicle to learn team work. There are winners and losers. Not everyone is going to win. Aspire to be the best you can. Be a good sport and support your teammates."
Then Klein, a longtime baseball man who played in the old Washington Senators’ farm system before becoming a minor league manager and ultimately a major league general manager, recognized the Little League managers and coach’s on-hand.
"Congratulations coaches," he said. "We wouldn’t have Little League if it wasn’t for you. You are the backbone. Little League works and baseball is the greatest game in the world."