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Challenger players show Suns the joy of baseball

June 28, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Brandon Groomes really liked his opportunity to play a little baseball with the Hagerstown Suns.

Thor Meeks, though, had a better term for being able to be one of those Suns.

“The best word to describe it all is ‘appreciation,’” Meeks said.

Meeks and his Suns teammates played host to Maugansville Challenger Little League for a one-inning game on Friday before Hagerstown took on the Lexington Legends in its regularly scheduled South Atlantic League contest at Municipal Stadium.

The nightcap meant more in the standings. The opener made a bigger impression on the heart.

The Challengers and the Suns laid down bases in right field since the tarp was drawn over the infield because of a quick rainstorm.

It didn’t take away the excitement for the visiting team.

“I was really excited to play today,” said Groomes, who showed his power-hitting prowess in his one at-bat. “I love baseball. I want to do more. I want to come out here an make more friends.”

The Challenger Division is a league created for special needs children, allowing them the opportunity to play baseball. The league, which debuted in 1989, has made this day with the Suns an annual event.

It’s one that both the Challengers and the Suns look forward to every year.

“I really wished that we could have done this on the infield,” said Suns pitcher Christian Meza. “This, playing with these kids, all makes me grateful to be out here with the chance to be playing. I don’t know what I would be doing right now if I didn’t have this opportunity.

“This reminds me of the old days, when we were out there for fun.”

That’s basically all it is for the Challengers … a fun-filled experience.

Meeks, a catcher on the Suns’ disabled list, played some third base with Michael Vogel of Dairy Queen. A ball was hit down the line and Vogel ran and picked it up. He ran over, with the ball in hand, and slapped Meeks with a big hug.

“He’s my new friend,” said Vogel, of Hagerstown. “I like to make new friends. I like baseball and to be out on the grass field.”

It all added to Meeks’ appreciation of the experience.

“I appreciate being able to do this,” Meeks said. “When the ball was hit, (Vogel) ran over and picked it up and said, ‘I got the ball.’ I said, ‘Great job’ and he came over and hugged me.

“This all gives me a bigger appreciation for what I have, to be able to come out and play everyday. Sometimes you take it for granted, to be healthy and playing. Then you see these kids coming out and trying to do what we do … it makes you more appreciative.”

The Challengers didn’t waste their chances. Braydon Mongan, of Chambersburg, Pa., ripped a hard shot to short, where a group of Suns and At Your Service players stood playing defense. With a determined look, he sprinted to first, even though his left leg was in a walking boot.

“It was exciting. I hit the ball really hard,” said Mongan, who wouldn’t allow a leg injury to keep him from playing. “Every time I play, it gets easier and easier (to hit).”

Suns manager Tripp Keister took the first base coaching box and greeted each player with a fist bump after they hit. There were smiles all around.

On this day, everyone won.

“When I did this last year, I saw how all these kids got a lot of joy out of it,” Meza said. “It’s great how it makes these kids happy.”

On this Friday, there was a lot of appreciation to go around for everyone at Municipal Stadium.

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