FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — MARCH 6, 2013 –
Well, spring is already here, or at least it sure feels like it. The sun has been out for weeks, birds are chirping, and I’ve already had my first mosquito bite. Actually, the way I have always known that spring has finally arrived in Northern California is that major league baseball players have reported to their spring training camps in warm places like Arizona and Florida, and our own West Sacramento Little League is beginning to hum with activity. Teams are being picked, fundraisers have begun, Picture Day has been scheduled, and best of all, Opening Day will be here before we know it (March 16th this year), complete with the only Annual Little League Parade in the whole Sacramento area.
When I was growing up in West Sacramento back in the 1950s and 1960s, there was simply nothing more important than the start of the Little League baseball season. It seemed like the whole town was full of men and boys who loved the sport of baseball and many of the former had worked tirelessly to create one of the best Little Leagues in the greater Sacramento region. Men like James Cameron, Jack Dunlap, Clyde Burt, Carl Youngblood, Joe Bottino, Herb Hoskins, John Kimbrough, Leroy McReynolds, Red McKinnon, Bob Lukins, Bob Domasky, Bill Havey, and many, many others whose names I no longer recall had used determination and lots of hard work to bring Little League baseball to West Sacramento, and by 1959 they had built baseball diamonds at Memorial Park considered so good that they were used to host that year’s Little League Western Regionals.
Back in those early years of Little League baseball in West Sacramento, it seemed like every mom and pop business in town was a proud sponsor of one of the teams, and you can still walk into places like Havey’s Barbershop and Crest Jewelers and see framed photos of long ago WSLL teams.
Anyway, back when I was nine years old and convinced that I would someday be the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or the Milwaukee Braves (I wasn’t quite sure yet if I wanted to play in the American or National leagues) I knew that the first real step to baseball fame and glory started with getting chosen to play on one of the teams in the West Sacramento Little League. So off I eagerly went to my first tryout where I did pretty good in the field, but not so good with a bat in my hands. But the manager of the major league Braves, Bill Havey, decided to take a chance on me and selected me to be on his team.
I can still remember my excitement when I was given my first West Sacramento Little League uniform to wear. It had “Braves” written boldly across the front of the jersey exactly as the real Milwaukee Braves logo looked and best of all I had been assigned uniform #10, which for some reason long forgotten I had actually prayed would be given to me. Since only numbers 1 through 15 were handed out back in those days, no one wanted to get #11 or #13 or some other really uncool number, so I was beyond thrilled knowing that I would be wearing #10 throughout my Little League career.
Nowadays, you can start playing Little League at a much younger age than when I was a Brave. Back then there were only two divisions, the majors and minors. The minor league teams had wonderful names taken from some of the old Pacific Coast League teams like the Solons, Stars, Padres, Oaks, Angels and Rainiers, and 9 and 10 year olds mostly played on those teams. Then when you got to be 11 or 12 years old, you usually went up to the majors and played on teams like the Giants, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Braves. But now young boys and girls can start playing pee-wee baseball as early as the age of four or five, which finally brings me to my little story:
The other day my son-in-law showed up at my house as excited as I had seen him in some time.
“What’s Dallas so happy about?” I asked my daughter.
“Oh, he was out playing baseball with Will (my five-year old grandson) this morning and I guess Will hit a couple of home runs or something,” answered my daughter matter-of-factly, having never been much of a baseball fan herself.
“You should have seen him,” said Dallas with genuine pride and excitement. “For some reason he turned around all on his own and started hitting left-handed instead of right-handed and bingo, he was just crushing the ball!”
“But Will is right-handed,” my daughter reminded her husband. “Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to teach him to hit a ball left-handed? Maybe it will confuse him or screw something up? His little brain is still not completely formed yet you know.”
“Are you kidding?” said Dallas. “Do you know how much better your chances are of making the big leagues if you can throw right-handed and bat left-handed? Who knows, maybe I can even make him into a switch-hitter down the road? Wow, a switch-hitting shortstop. Now that really could be his ticket to the Big Show! I can hardly wait for Little League to start this year!
“Dallas,” pleaded my daughter, “don’t forget, he’s only five years old. He’s not exactly ready for the major leagues yet.”
“You can never get them started too young when it comes to baseball, right Daryl?” asked Dallas.
“Not in West Sacramento!” I answered.
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