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March 19, 2008 > Rights of spring, Niles Centerville Little League style

Rights of spring, Niles Centerville Little League style

By Biff Jones
Photos By Bill Marshak

Although the Vernal Equinox (first day of Spring) for 2008 was a little over ten days away (10:48 p.m. PDT on March 19), the District 14 Little Leaguers from Niles Centerville in Fremont held their opening ceremonies behind Vallejo Mills school on a warm sunny morning, Saturday, March 8. The hills above the school and NCLL playing fields were still green from the recent winter rains, which made for a beautiful setting as the parade of athletes (Little Leaguers) in their colorful playing uniforms got ready for the first "Play Ball" of 2008.

Veterans from Washington Township served as the Honor Guard when the colors (American Flag) were presented and 10-year-old Shelby Casey sang the Star Spangled Banner.

NCLL President Moira Jacobs welcomed the crowd and introduced this year's board members, after which league Vice President Neal Duffy dedicated the new batting cages.

The theme for this year's opening ceremonies was a tribute to Pete Banducci, a long time NCLL volunteer and friend who lost his battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) a couple of years ago. Allyssa, Pete and his wife Pam's daughter, played baseball at NCLL through the Junior Division, and their son, Sam, is now playing in NCLL Juniors for the "Giants," coached by Duffy. Over the past fall and winter, NCLL had two state-of-the-art batting cages built adjacent to the playing fields. It was a dream of Pete's that the kids from NCLL get as many practice "hacks" as possible so that they could have a better chance of becoming professional and Major League ball players.

During part of the opening ceremonies, Mike McNevin, a former NCLL player back in the 1970s and now a nationally famous folk singer and writer, sang and performed on the guitar a version of "Take Me out to the Ball Game." McNevin also had a song, "The Pride of Niles Centerville Little League," inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 2005. In addition, Gary Williams, a former Oakland Raiders announcer, who is famous for commercial voiceovers, participated in the ceremonies.

Recognition was also given to last year's District 14 Champions and Sectional Finalist, NCLL Juniors. They lost two out of three games played against Half Moon Bay, including the final, in the double elimination Sectional Tournament. With the victory, HBM moved on to the Nor Cal Championship Tournament for Junior Little Leaguers. Last year's NCLL Majors also won District 14 to advance to Sectional play before being eliminated from 2007 Little League competition.

NCLL is composed of Seniors (15-17-year-olds) and Juniors (ages 13-14) who play on regulation size playing fields of 90 foot base paths and 60'6" pitching distances, with normal games lasting seven innings. Besides Majors, they have Minors A and B, and Farm, who use a smaller or softball size playing field of 60 foot base paths and a 46 foot pitching distance, with normal games lasting six innings. The NCLL complex includes a large field, two small fields, with one using a pitching machine for the younger players, and a field for the youngest kids (ages four and older) that hit off a tee in the Tee-Ball Division. This, plus great food from a well stocked snack bar to go along with the new batting cages, make NCLL one of the best facilities in the country for Little League Baseball.

After the ceremonies, a Challenger game (for Little Leaguers with disabilities) was played on the large field using shorter base paths and a shorter pitching distance with the pitching being done by adults. The disabled batters, fielders and base runners have other Little Leaguers without a disability, assist them in playing the game. In addition, NCLL has a Challenger Division where the disabled play on teams against each during the regular Little League season.

The opening Saturday for NCLL included games played on the Major, Minor and Tee-Ball fields throughout the morning and afternoon to make for a spectacular opening day. Good luck to all NCLL teams, players and all-stars for a successful 2008 Little League season.

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