Time to play ball!
Parades, team introductions, player oaths and ceremonial first pitches ushered in a new youth baseball season in Whitman and Hanson Saturday, April 25.
“Opening Day is very special in small towns like Whitman,” said Whitman Baseball and Softball Association President Brian Schwede. “I can’t imagine one place on the South Shore today that has 525 children in fluorescent colors, smiles on their faces and their parents all together with them.”
WBSA’s 525 players were first up to bat, stepping off from the Spellman Center at 9 a.m., winding their way up Washington Street to Park Avenue and Hayden Avenue to the Whitman Park ball field.
Hanson’s Little League teams stepped off from Town Hall at noon, traversing Liberty Street to the Boteiri Fields.
“Spring is here, the weather is beginning to improve a little and we are expecting another great season of Hanson Little League baseball,” said Hanson Fundraising Chairman Jay Walker, who served as master of ceremonies. “I know the players and coaches in the entire league are excited to get underway.”
Quoting a legend
Acknowledging he was standing in Red Sox Nation, Schwede warned his crowd that he was about to quote a famous member of the Bronx Bombers — the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. Those in the crowd who knew that Joltin’ Joe’s brother, Dominic, played his entire 11-year career with the Red Sox could find the selection fitting: “You always get a special kick on opening day no matter how many you go through,” Joe DiMaggio once said. “You look forward to it like your birthday party when you were a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”
“That’s how I feel today … excited and hopeful,” Schwede said.
In both communities, the volunteers who helped recover fields after a hard winter received special thanks.
“I just want to mention a special group of volunteers that help each and every time they’re called on,” said Schwede, recognizing Dan Desmond, Glen Fosse and Gerard Cooper of WBSA. “This field has come a long way in the last month. … In my estimation this field rivals Fenway Park each and every day.”
Walker expressed thanks to parents and coaches who helped participate in the recent field cleanup day, as well as Hanson Parks and Fields, Water and Highway departments for help with that project and year-round support.
“The fields are in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’ll play about 700 regular season games … not including playoffs.”
Three former Hanson Little League Board members threw out ceremonial first pitches in Hanson: Ed Kinsella, Rob Mulcahy and Wayne Princiotti.
WBSA saluted its business sponsors by asking Steve Egan of Egan Realty Group, jeweler David Menard and Tom Vemis of Regal Marketplace to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.
“This morning is just a small token of our appreciation for the entire vendor community,” Schwede said after the pitch ceremony. “We are fortunate to live in a community the size of Whitman and have over 50 participating sponsors.”
Player Agent Diane Schwede noted this was the first year 4-year-olds participated in the parade and led the crowd in applauding them as well as 12-year-olds playing their final year in Little League. Coach Ralph Goodick and players of last year’s undefeated 8-year old Friendship State Title team were also applauded.
WBSA softball players Michaela Happnie — singing the national anthem — and Riley Sullivan — performing “God Bless America” — saluted America in song.
As Whitman’s parade formed at the Holy Ghost Church, players and their families donated 1,222 pounds of food to the Whitman Food Pantry.
“We at the pantry are very grateful for all that they do for us year after year in helping those less fortunate in the town of Whitman,” St. Vincent de Paul District President Bob Hogan said Tuesday. “The efforts of many help us to continue to reach out to those in need.”
Brian Schwede called the crowd’s attention to the memorial behind the Hayden Avenue dugout, where more than 600 baseballs bearing the names of service members from across the country killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and collected by former WBSA President Chris Johnson have been given a dignified burial in a casket. Swensen Granite donated the memorial bench, Aria Landscaping donated the brickwork and Bruce Martin and DPW workers installed the flagpole and landscaped the space.
Hanson resident Kristen Nehiley performed the national anthem for Hanson Little League ceremonies, and the crowd was invited to sing along with a recording of the late Rev. Mark Hannon’s signature rendition of “God Bless America.”
Hanson’s Boteiri Family Award for the player who best exemplifies hard work, unselfish team play, passion and dedication to the game, was awarded to Sean McKay.
After Whitman’s players and parent volunteers took their oaths of conduct, and Hanson teams doffed their caps to the crowd it was time for players in both towns to play ball.
Police, fire, DPW and highway department employees in both towns were thanked for helping prepare the fields or participating in the parades.