For the 16th consecutive year, Roxana is hosting the Senior League Softball World Series. And, for the 16th consecutive year, the play has been nothing short of remarkable, while the vibe around the Lower Sussex Little League complex has been bordering on electric.
Two realities struck me hard earlier this week while I was covering a few of the games. The first was that the event never gets old to me, even after 16 years of sitting under the hot sun or trying to keep rain off my notebook while some of the best young softball players in the world battled mere yards away from the bleachers. And the second reality, which is admittedly more than a little disturbing, is that some of the players in this year’s tournament were not yet born the first year the tournament landed in Roxana.
Regardless, this is truly a special event, and our community is fortunate to get to play host every year. I can also make the case that the players, coaches and parents of the teams who descend on Roxana each year are fortunate that this community plays host to them. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
There are so many things to share about the opening games of the tournament, and so little time and space, so let me offer just a few random thoughts from the first couple days of the Series:
• The teams that typically do well here year after year, in these untrained eyes of mine, are the ones who don’t beat themselves. They don’t make a lot of errors in the field, or walk a bunch of batters. They bunt their teammates over to the next base, and pay attention on the basepaths. There’s an old saying in the sports world that more teams do things to lose games than win them, and that holds up here.
• Mia Boykin, who plays thirdbase for USA Southeast... well, let me share what I wrote down in my little notebook during her team’s opening game against the team from Canada. “Southeast’s thirdbaseman has a cannon for an arm. Made two difficult plays look easy by setting her feet and firing a throw to beat the runner.” It’s fun watching someone ply his or her craft well.
• Do you remember when I made a little comment a few paragraphs ago about how fortunate the participants are to be playing here in Roxana? Besides the natural aesthetics of the area, and the proximity to the beach and shopping for the athletes and their families, one thing that really stands out to me every year at the World Series is the team of volunteers. Golf-carting people back and forth in the parking lot, dumping trash, keeping water jugs filled in the dugouts, running the concession stands, keeping score, attending to the teams and umpires... you name it. I’ve had the pleasure of having several conversations with organizers of the Series every year, and they all say the same thing — it’s not possible to hold this thing without the hard work and dedication of volunteers.
• Latin America pitcher Kamila Guzman-Colon hit Southwest’s Jordyne Reese with a pitch during their game on Monday, July 29, and it was solid contact. Reese, as ballplayers tend to do, simply dropped the bat and went to first, refusing to make a big deal out of it. Guzman-Colon then walked over to first, slapped hands with Reese and made sure she was fine, and then returned to the mound. It was just a tiny example of good sportsmanship, the kind you see over and over again during this tournament, but it was noticed by family members of the Southwest team that were seated around me in the bleachers. Good vibes all around.
• Umpires sometimes make mistakes. News flash: So does everybody else. The umpire teams really do a nice job of getting together to talk things through if they are unsure of a call, and they try their best to get it right. Get off their backs a little bit.
• I liked the left side of Canada’s infield during their game against USA West quite a bit, as well. Third baseman Mackenzie Wildy and shortstop Alex Buckham both made strong plays in the field, and, in fact, that entire defense looks strong behind pitcher Payton Henderson. Through the first two games, both wins for Canada, Henderson did a great job keeping her pitches low and getting groundballs. Her defense did the rest behind her.
• How about that walk-off homerun for District 3’s Jada Evans against USA Southwest on Tuesday, July 30? After Southwest clawed back from a 5-1 deficit in the top of the seventh to tie the game, Evans hit a game-winner that might not have landed yet to give her team the win. Exciting stuff. Exciting game.
• I love the player introductions before each game. I love watching the players’ little rituals with each other as they line up, I love hearing the announcers trying their best to pronounce some of the more difficult names and I love hearing the international teams softly sing along to their Anthems. These amazing athletes are building memories here to last a lifetime, and they’re giving me plenty, as well.