Opening day

April 20, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

The words of "The Star Spangled Banner" rolled out of 6-year-old Matthew Hamilton's mouth without a hitch Saturday.

Matthew's mother, Karen Hamilton, said she used to sing the anthem to him at bedtime.

"He said he knew all the words after nine days and he's been singing it ever since," she said.

Matthew's performance was one of two special moments during the league's opening ceremonies at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Park.

The second came when 11/2-year-old Ryan McCauley threw the first pitch of the season to his brother, Brandon, 11. The boys' father, Kenneth McCauley, is stationed in Kuwait with an Army Reserve military police unit. He's been there since January and is not expected home until December, his wife, Kelly, said.

Ryan was wearing his dad's baseball cap with a yellow ribbon pinned on it.

Kenneth McCauley is an umpire with the league, his wife said.

Similar ceremonies were being played out across Washington County, Maryland and much of the United States on Saturday for the opening of the Little League baseball season.


"It's happening all over America," Tim McSherry, president of the halfway Little League, said. "They open this week or next. Most open this week."

Among area Little Leagues holding season openers Saturday were Conocoheague in Williamsport and American in Hagerstown.

Hagerstown's National League opens April 26 at Staley Field off Frederick Street, said Debbie Walling, head of special events for the League.

Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties make up Maryland's District One, said Debbie Everts, administrator for the district.

Little League is open to boys and girls ages 5-18. Players 5-7 usually start out in T-ball then move up to the Minor League, which takes in children ages 7-12. Those ages 9-12 play in the Major League.

Junior, Senior and Big leagues are for teenagers.

Saturday was a big day for Garrett Coleman, 7, of Hagerstown. He moved up from T-ball to the minors. He said he doesn't know what position he plays, but said he's a good baseball player.

Hope Wolford, 7, of Hagerstown, was lining up with her team as her mother, Erin Wolford, watched from a fence. She was holding 3-year-old Grace in her arms.

"This is her first year," Wolford said.

She called the experience "a good thing."

"It's important for her to learn sportsmanship, and the physical activity is good," Wolford said.

McSherry said the season runs until early June. Each team plays 20 games, then the All-Star games begin.

The Halfway Little League has 180 players this year.

Over at Ebersole Field in Williamsport, the Conocoheague Little League was working through its opening day games. It's the league's biggest year yet with more than 300 youngsters signed on to play.

"Last year we had 250," said League President Walter William.

The league did some heavy, early advertising to recruit players, William said.

Walling said the number of players in the National League dropped from 200 to 175 this year. Soccer is luring children from baseball, she said.

The American League opened its season at the field on Mill Street on Saturday. Linda Baughman is the league president.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny Nigh represented the city at the ceremony. Katrina Perry sang the national anthem and John Barr of Ellsworth Electric was given the honor of throwing the first pitch because of his help in keeping the field's lights operating, Baughman said.

While the number of players is up by 10 this year to 196, it's still way down from what it was seven or eight years ago, Baughman said.

"We had 10 major league teams and more than 300 players back then," she said.

She blamed the decline on people moving out of the area, children choosing soccer over baseball and children staying home playing video games instead of coming out to play baseball.

Baughman said she's been involved in Little League for more than 20 years.

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