Opening day for Island sluggers

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Young ball players enjoy the Opening Day ceremonies for the Island’s Little League at the South Mercer Playfields on Saturday. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Young ball players enjoy the Opening Day ceremonies for the Island’s Little League at the South Mercer Playfields on Saturday.
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As an unusually harsh winter fades away, spring is reborn on Mercer Island. With the warmer weather and yellow daffodils comes preparation for the national pastime, baseball. For a few hours on Saturday, more than 1,000 people, including players, coaches and parents, showed up for Mercer Island Little League’s opening day ceremony. While the weather was far from balmy, the overcast sky and chilly wind were not enough to quell the excitement in the air.

The eager kids congregated in the cafeteria of Islander Middle School. Parents and coaches chatted while the zealous players raced and roared through the lunchroom. Around 10 a.m., coaches did their best to organize the players in lines of two and march them from the middle school to the South Mercer Playfields. Upon reaching the fields, the parade received a warm welcome and high fives from members of the high school varsity baseball and softball teams. The microphone caught the crowd’s attention and spectators watched as 74 youth Little League teams, clad in colorful uniforms, were introduced via loudspeaker. After each team jogged a lap around the infield, they arranged themselves on the outfield grass.

Following the parade, Boys and Girls Club executive director Blair Rasmussen introduced the master of ceremonies, Q13 Sportscaster Dan Devone. In addition to comments and a short story from Devone, the ceremony featured a number of other special events. Seventh-grader Olivia Cero sang a heartwarming rendition of the national anthem, Mercer Island Mayor Bryan Cairns spoke briefly and Seattle Mariners executive Bob Aylward threw the ceremonial first pitch. In addition, a raffle that gave out hefty prizes, such as a baseball signed by Lou Pinella and autographs from various major league players, also took place throughout the event. Perhaps the most entertaining moment of all was provided by varsity baseball player Andrew Higgins who, after encouragement from teammates and cheers from the audience, rounded third and slid headfirst through the mud and into home plate.

Although youth baseball leagues have existed on Mercer Island for generations, this year marks only the second opening day ceremony, organizers said.

“The best part is the excitement it brings for the kids. It really sets the season off,” said Wade Schmidt, a Little League coach since 1992. “It shows the kids that they are about to embark on a season full of fun.” Indeed, the ceremony put everyone into a baseball mindset. On a blustery Saturday morning, Mercer Island’s enthusiasm and interest in baseball was evident.

Once all festivities were over, some hurried to their cars to escape the cold. However, many people lingered around the field conversing with others. A concession stand fired up its grill and offered traditional ballpark food, including hot dogs and peanuts.

One parent said the event “brings the Island together as a community.” That feeling played a large role in making opening day a success. After tremendous support and a large turnout, many hope to make the ceremony a yearly occurrence.

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