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Little League and Softball kick off season

Former all-star team returns to McBean Park
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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Tossing candy and shouting cheers, 630 players of Lincoln Little League and about 300 players from Lincoln Girls Softball Association paraded Saturday morning through downtown in brightly decorated trucks. They had a special milestone to celebrate – Little League’s 50th anniversary in Lincoln. More than 70 floats with approximately 1,000 children traveled through downtown to McBean Park, where Little League opening ceremonies were held. The first truck after the color guard carried members of Lincoln’s 1980 All-Star team, which was the group to go farthest in the league’s 50-year history, earning a section title. Robert Anaya was among the hundreds of spectators who lined the streets as the parade rolled by. “I think it’s cool,” Anaya said, adding that his neighbors’ children worked all week on the floats. Lincoln’s Citizens on Patrol ensured the safety of the youth, directing traffic. “It’s all about the youth today,” said Citizens on Patrol volunteer Wayne Hardage, who sees many of the youth during his regular patrols near the schools. “You see a great community come out today and the youth has a safe place to be. It’s fun.” Once the players reached McBean Park, they excitedly jumped out of the backs of trucks and off trailers to head to the ball field. “I liked throwing the candy at people,” said Mylan Fernandez, 14, who plays for the Gators, adding that he likes playing Little League and spending time with his friends. Eight-year-old Justin Ray from the Bees said he also liked throwing candy during the parade but really likes playing in the outfield during games. It wasn’t just boys who put on their uniforms Saturday as Lincoln’s Little League has a girls’ team and also partnered with the Lincoln Girls Softball Association for Saturday’s event. “My favorite part of today is to be able to get all the kids together in a family atmosphere,” said Lincoln Girls Softball President Thomas La Gabed. Matison Sparks, 9, plays for the Rockstars and held a guitar on her team’s float. “It’s really fun,” Matison said. “I like to see my friends and make new friends.” In all, 636 children participated in opening ceremonies for Little League at McBean Park, said Troy Petersen, Little League president, who introduced the teams and their managers before bringing out a team that won’t play this year but made a huge mark on Lincoln’s Little League history. Meeting as a team for the first time since 1980, the highest-ranking all-star team from Lincoln took the field again to be recognized by players who hope to follow in their path. “This has been actually outstanding,” said David Crawford, a 1980 team member, adding that the sense of accomplishment “feels the same” today as it did 29 years ago. “It’s been 20 years since I’ve seen some of these guys,” Crawford said as they reminisced under the shade of one of the park’s trees next to the field. The park, the players all agreed, has seen quite a bit of improvement since 1980, making it a much nicer place. “It’s great,” said Bill Balakin, who coached the 1980 team. “They all remember everything. I don’t think the friendships ever left.” On the field, where each player was given a hat with their title embroidered on the side, an old newspaper photo was pulled out and the men lined up exactly as they had nearly 30 years ago for another team photo. “It’s so great to see all the guys I haven’t seen,” said Ray Garcia. “It’s more about the young kids today, though.” At the closing of the ceremonies, the teams all split up to warm up or rest before their exhibition games, which lasted into the afternoon. “I think it went fantastic,” Little League President Petersen said. “Everybody’s ready. Everybody had fun. Now it starts.” Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.