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)