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Dugout Doings: 'The day the park wakes up'
Debbie Bennett welcomes a young NYO'er
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Dugout Doings: 'The day the park wakes up'

Debbie Bennett stands beneath an arch of red, white and blue balloons at the Garr Field and greets each little one being dropped off by an anxious parent. 'We have runners right here to take (your child) in,' Debbie reassures each new arrival. The sign at the entrance to the Garr outfield reads: 'Players, Coaches and Team Moms Only on the Field.' It's NYO Opening Day, the big parade and, for many, a rite of passage. 'Hi, I'm Shannon, what's your name?' says one adult volunteer sporting an 'Ask Me! NYO Opening Day' volunteer badge. The little girl in her tiny baseball uniform takes Shannon's hand and they march to the field. Brayden Bassett, 11, of the Major league Rangers, greets Walker Hanlon, 7, and his brother, Graham, 5. They play for the Red Sox in the Rookie and Shetland Blue leagues, respectively.

The sky is a leaden gray and the thermometer hangs in the mid-50s. A drop or two is felt, but one adult boasts, 'It doesn't rain on Opening Day. It's not allowed.' It rained earlier and the grass is wet. Dozens of Moms working as volunteers seem to have gotten the same memo. They're all wearing rain boots. But the children, especially the boys, race around the Garr outfield. It sounds like a school yard at recess. 'This is the day the park wakes up,' says long-time NYO coach and volunteer Billy Small, who arranges the music playing over the loudspeaker system. (To read more, please click on the headline)

An assistant coach checks on his son who is near tears as he rubs a shoulder injured during spirited play. 'Let's see who can do the most sit-ups,' the head coach tells the rest of his players, trying to settle them down. Waiting for anything, even a parade, is difficult when you're 5, 6, 7 or 8. Soon enough, the Whitefield High School marching band strikes up a soulful rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'  The Holy Innocents' Episcopal High School cheerleaders fall in behind the band, and they are followed by an array of high school mascots, as well as Hope and Will of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Freddie the Falcon and the Chick-fil-A cow. The Kit-Kat fastpitch softball Cubs proudly carry the team banner that lists the names of each player, coach and team Mom.

Parents, grandparents and siblings line the cordoned-off parade route that winds from Garr and down a path that swings behind the Dowis building. The route climbs back up stairs and into the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field. Some teams chant as they march. 'Let's go, Pirates, let's go,' sing the Rookie Pirates. Each player carries a tiny American flag and wears a Mardi Gras-style necklace of colorful beads. Read the names on the team banners and you're reminded that America is, indeed, an ethnic stew.   

The grass that rings the Wilkins infield is wet, so coaches turn their team banners into mats on which their players sit. Brad Glenn, who coaches a team for each of his three kids, sent an email to parents, asking if anyone had a tarp. Brad's Shetland Blue Reds have the driest seat in the house atop a big blue tarp.

There are the obligatory introductions and the kind of adult talk that can make little ones restless. But baseball commissioner and Opening Day emcee Cliff Barshay maintains control. He lays the 'blame' on talkative parents and encourages the kids 'this one time, to tell your parents to be quiet.' Jane Wilkins, former NYO executive director for whom the field and Opening Day are named, is introduced. Jane steps onto the turf, looking even younger than she did a year ago when she was the Opening Day honoree.

The Whitefield band plays the National Anthem as boys and men remove their caps and everyone faces the flag poles. As the music ends, Billy Small simulates the sound of a jet flyover on the loudspeaker system.
Another NYO season is officially under way.

(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, prefers NYO Opening Days to those in the Major Leagues, a comparison he can make because he has attended so many of each)  
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