There are three certainties one can count on in this community during the month of August: You will get angry at a fellow driver; you will hear at least one conversation a day about the quality of our local corn; and some of the best young softball players in the world will be displaying their talents in Roxana.
Actually, if you play your cards right, you can hit that August trifecta with one trip to the Lower Sussex Little League facility. You’ll probably get mad at another motorist on your trip. You’ll find yourself driving past a corn field. And you get to watch some of the best young softball players on the planet.
And hot dogs. I should have included the hot dogs.
It’s hard to estimate how many concession stand hot dogs I put down every year during the Series. It’s kind of like trying to estimate the size of a crowd at a major event — it’s not realistic to expect someone to actually take the time to count each hot dog I drive into my gut during the week, but if you take a small sample size of my typical gorging pattern, and extrapolate that over...
But I digress.
Let’s just say I go through some hot dogs every summer sitting in those bleachers, but that’s part of the experience, right? There’s just something so Americana about hearing the crack (well, now, “ping”) of a bat smacking a piece of horsehide through the air, the sounds of the chatter from the dugouts before every pitch, a hot dog in your hand and the warmth of the sun on your face.
I fall in love with the sport all over again every summer. I enjoy the nuances in watching an infield rotate in anticipation of a bunt, the groans from the crowd over a perceived bad call against their team, the pivot and turn of a well-executed double play and the collective rush of everyone watching or playing as a relay throw goes to the plate with a baserunner sprinting for home. Softball, like baseball, is a beautiful sport to both watch and play, and the athletes who show up to play in Roxana every year never fail to impress.
With that being said, I decided to break out the notebook I’ve been keeping this week at the park, sort through the hastily-written notes in the margins and share some of my favorite experiences of the week.
• I’m a sap. There is little I enjoy more in this life than watching a community rally together for a cause — any cause. And I have yet to come across a community anywhere that rallies better than ours. The World Series is a great reminder of this to me every year. I got to see some members of a local Lions Club volunteering at the concession stands on Tuesday night, and ran into a few other people I know working security or serving as trainers. The Series happens here every year because of the hard work of volunteers who care enough to step up and try to do their parts to give these remarkable athletes and their families memories that will last for lifetimes.
• Besides internally rooting for the District III team to do well each year at the tournament, I usually find myself getting attached to another team, as well. This year it has been the Canadian squad, from Victoria, British Columbia. The quality of play by the Canadian entrant has steadily improved since Roxana began hosting this event 14 years ago, and this is a team that could cause real damage this year, evidenced by them winning their first three games by a combined score of 21-1.
That’s reason enough to like the team. But as the father of a young girl who I hope will take part in youth sports, it is the sportsmanship shown by the players, families and coaches that really gets my attention. It’s a nice group of people over there, and you only hear support from their dugout.
• Sticking with Team Canada for a minute, my favorite player through the first few games has been their catcher, Amelia Trembath. She hustles every throw back to the pitcher, keeps opposing baserunners honest each and every pitch and races back to the dugout when they get their third out, greeting her teammates with encouragement as they get off the field.
I played catcher growing up, and she does every little thing my coaches preached to me every day. She’s a good role model if you have a youngster trying to learn the position.
• The most dominant player I had seen the first few days was Asia-Pacific pitcher Kaith Ezra Jalandoni. In her first two appearances, the comparatively-tiny pitcher tossed 14 innings, picked up two wins, gave up only five hits and had 24 strikeouts. That is dealing.
• One of the best games I’ve seen in my life, on any level, was Monday evening’s battle between Central and West. Central jumped out to a seemingly-insurmountable 9-1 lead in the third inning, and I believe many of us watching were anticipating a “mercy” ending to the game.
But the West team from Montana didn’t back down, and eventually slugged their way back to a tie at the end of five innings. With momentum firmly on the West team’s side, it seemed there was no way Central could pull themselves back together. But they did, pushing across two runs in the seventh to win the game.
Two teams refusing to quit, and putting all they had into it. Another shining example for young people who watched it take place.
• Martin Donovan, the tournament director, seems waaaaaay less stressed this year, as District III was only hosting one tournament, as opposed to the two they had been previously hosting. Great man, and he does a fantastic job.
• Did I mention the hot dogs?