One of my all time favorite places on earth has to be the NYO baseball fields. I didn’t always feel the love I do now, especially on the nights I brought home tired and dirty children, but “hindsight is 20/20.” My older son began playing T-ball at 5 years old when my husband and I were young parents eagerly looking for ways to entertain our boys out of the house. The beautifully manicured fields have come a long way since my younger toddler son splashed in mud puddles where the nicely paved trails now wind through the park. Now when I hear parents talk of “daddy ball” or the politics of their childs playing time or how unpopular the coach is, I’m glad I had the naivety at the time to think it was just a game and a happy place to play outside, with the same neighborhood feel as the backyards of my childhood. As one of my favorite baseball mom friends said when asked if she was a baseball fan, “Only when I’m watching someone I love play.” My boys still make fun of my lack of baseball knowledge, but to me it was more about “the whole experience.” The moms and dads screaming in the stands, the little sisters that made friends with other little sisters, the tickets for the concession stand that were way more important than the score for the T-ballers, feeling like I arrived when I got to sit in a real seat at the Field of Dreams, Miss Jane, and the pure joy of watching someone I love playing a game they love. As I run around the park today, I often get chills as I’m flooded with memories of my children growing up on those fields. Win or lose, I loved the game and everything it gave to our family.
The post on the NYO Sports website captures the scene of opening day perfectly.
Richie McClure, a scrappy NYO baseball alum now at North Atlanta High School, roams the outfield grass in a leprechaun costume. Boys and girls in tiny baseball and softball uniforms flock to him as their parents snap pictures. St. Paddy’s Day meets Opening Day 2012 on the lush green fields of NYO.
Before the games can begin a parade must be held. Little ones wearing Mardi Gras-style beads march behind their teams’ banners onto the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field. High school mascots prance, the Whitefield Academy band blares out pep tunes and the Georgia Boys’ Choir lines up behind home plate to sing The National Anthem, America the Beautiful and Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Tommy DeShong, wearing his Pirates uniform, joins his choir mates. His mom, Bland, looks on. This year marks her fourth as parade organizer, along with Paige Fielden. No sport celebrates the opening of its season better. And no youth-recreational program makes a bigger deal of it than does NYO.
Baseball Commisioner Cliff Barshay, wearing a bright-green NYO shirt, is everywhere. Larry Bennett, who insures the best youth recreational baseball and softball fields in the Southeast, sweeps infield dirt from the grass near third base on the Wilkins Field. Beyond the outfield fences, newly planted shrubs spell out NYO and form the outline of a baseball. Red, white and blue balloons are everywhere, except for the Wieuca Road overlook that Larry and his wife, Debbie, occupy as they take in the festivities below. There, the balloons are blue and orange, the colors of Larry’s beloved Auburn University.
Two of the five NYO alums who are headed to college next fall on baseball or softball scholarships recount their days on the Wilkins-Bronco field. Jake Maziar, of Holy Innocents’, Lee Miller, at Riverwood, and Mitchell Brister, Westminster, have high school games and cannot attend. Zack Blonder, a strapping slugger for Woodward Academy, says his best NYO memories happened on the Bronco field. Liz Schneider, a three-time all-state fastpitch softball player at St. Pius, recalls an opening-day home run she hit in her last year of Bronco baseball. She moved to softball the next season. This year marks NYO’s 20th for fastball softball, according to league commissioner Brian Raley, who added that 800 girls now play for more than 70 spring and fall teams.
Atlanta City Commissioner Yolanda Andrean avoids a political speech in favor of an inspirational one. ‘Today should be about a four-letter word,’ she says. ‘That word is PLAY. When you learn to play, you learn to live and work together.’
The day has its share of surprises. Eighty-six-year-old Buddy Deery, better known as the gentleman who keeps order in the parking lot during NYO games at St. John’s Church, makes his singing debut. He stands next to his son-in-law, Cliff Barshay, and provides a St. Patrick’s Day essential, ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.’
As noon approaches, the early-morning clouds part. The sun emerges against a brilliant-blue sky. Standing next to the first-base dugout, Bronco Pirates coach and long-time NYO volunteer Colin Trahan appears startled when Commissioner Barshay calls on him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. As Colin approaches the mound, a little boy and his dad emerge from the crowd that rings the infield. Colin McGinty, carrying a dyed-green baseball, hands it to his godfather and namesake. Little Colin’s dad, NYO President Clete McGinty, moves behind home plate. Big Colin throws a perfect strike to his childhood friend Clete. It’s time to play ball. Another NYO season has begun.
In Cincinnati, where he grew up a Reds’ fan, Dugout Doings author Jay Smith recalls Opening Day as a city-wide holiday. NYO has that same feel.