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Fields of dreams come alive for young players

March 12, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • With the swing of the bat, Chloe Leatherman, 9, of Hagerstown connects with the ball at the Halfway Little League tryouts on Saturday afternoon.
By Chris Tilley, Staff Photographer

This is the stuff of dreams, a game played on neighborhood fields with no locker rooms, a few rows of bleachers and the scent of worn leather in the air.

Here, there are no millionaire owners feuding with millionaire players.

There are no high-priced tickets and skyboxes.

Fans watch the game for free, bringing their own blankets and lawn chairs and dropping a dollar into a hat for a team fundraiser.

Young and old, they share something unspoken — a love of baseball.

This is Little League, where children mimic their big-league heroes — fiddling with their hats, stretching in the on-deck circle and launching baseballs deep into a hot summer night that begs for a breeze.

In an age where people are bombarded by 24-hour sports on cable TV, baseball still holds magic for a child.

And that magic — complete with foul balls and dirt-stained uniforms — comes alive this time of the year on ballfields across America.

The calendar might still say winter, but on Saturday, the boys and girls of summer were back on the field.

It was the beginning of several days of tryouts for teams across Washington County and at sites throughout the area, hundreds of young people showed off their skills in the hopes of making the roster.

Some kids have been playing since they were old enough to hold a plastic bat and hit a ball in their backyard.

For others, it's a newfound adventure.

That was the case for 10-year-old Andrew Wheeler of Hagerstown, who played T-ball "but nothing else baseball related," he said.

But on Saturday, he arrived at Federal Little League's fields off Northern Avenue ready to win a spot on the team.

"I wanted to do something new," Andrew said. "So I thought I'd try out for baseball."

Andrew said he likes the Baltimore Orioles and goes to a lot of Hagerstown Suns games.

"They're like family," he said.

But he doesn't have dreams of following in his favorite players' footsteps.

"I'm not thinking of going to the majors," he smiled. "I'd be happy to just make it on a Little League team."

At Martin L. "Marty" Snook Park, where Halfway Little League plays, Peter Watney, 11, of Hagerstown, said he had come Saturday to observe how things were done.

Peter said he played baseball last year in Pennsylvania. Now that he and his family have moved to Washington County, he's looking for a new team.

"I love baseball," he said. "My grandfather played baseball, my dad played baseball, so it's a bit of a tradition."

Every year, Peter said he can't wait until the baseball season begins.

"I like other sports, but this is definitely my favorite," he said. "I live for baseball."

At American Little League on Mill Street, sisters Britni Dickens, 11, and Bonnie Kackley, 10, of Hagerstown, waited for their numbers to be called for tryouts.

For Britni, this will be her second year playing at American.

"I've always liked baseball," she said. "And I had a lot of fun playing on the team last year. So I want to do it again. "

Britni said she plays second base and outfield, but is willing to do whatever is asked of her.

"I can play as good as the boys," she said.

Britni said she also plays basketball and equally enjoys both sports.

Looking to the future, the young athlete said she hopes to play sports when she gets to high school.

"My mom says I might get a scholarship to college," she said. "So I want to do the best I can."

She also was one of the reasons her sister was trying out for the team.

"I watched Britni last year and thought it looked like fun," Bonnie said.

"I also think playing baseball will be nice to meet new people and have something new to do. I have a couple of friends who play football and they're always talking about their games. Now, I can have a sport to talk about, too," she said.

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