The year 1939 was a long time ago but that’s how far back the United States and Little League baseball go. And last Saturday, with a gorgeous, sun-drenched cool morning serving as a perfect backdrop, a long-standing tradition, albeit not quite up there with 75 years, took place at Prince Field in Miami Springs.
It was “Opening Day 2014” for the Miami Springs Area Little League and the 300-plus Miami Springs players showed up all decked out in their sharp clean uniforms and began the traditional pilgrimmage down Apache Street, past the Community Center, for their grand entrance at Prince Field.
Thanks to the efforts of league president Otto Camejo, his two vice presidents Alexis Nieto (softball) and Robert Gonzalez-Pino (baseball) along with Secretary Lily Camejo, the morning’s activities came off without a hitch.
Included was the usual fanfare of interactive games over in the playground area afterwards, plenty of concession food, a live DJ with music and, of course, what would opening day be without an appearance by the two head umpires, Mark Johnston and Bob Best. Johnson took to the mound to have parents and coaches recite the “parent/coach good sportsmanship pledge” followed by Best, who had the kids recite the Little League pledge followed by the two words Best waits all year to holler: “PLAY BALL!!!”
“This is hometown ball,” said Best. “This is what it’s all about as Little League baseball celebrates its 75th year and is the only youth sport in the United States to have been sanctioned by the federal government to conduct business. You ought to be privileged to be playing for an organization of that stature.”
After Miami Springs Mayor Zavier Garcia threw out the ceremonial “first pitch” with catcher Adriana Nieto on the other end, a very special guest was on hand to throw out the other pitch.
Two decades ago, Miami Springs resident David Yocum was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers and even though his career didn’t pan out due to arm problems (never good for a pitcher), Yocum was Exhibit A for the little ones to watch this day as it was he who wore those very same little uniforms back in the late ’80s when he played his youth baseball on the very same field.
Yocum delivered a strike right down the middle to his catcher Ben Jerrell to officially conclude the morning’s ceremonies.
“Little League in Miami Springs was such a really special part of my life and I had some wonderful times,” said Yocum. “It wasn’t just about going out there and striking everybody out and winning games but just all kind of part of growing up as a kid and making friends and just having fun.
“My parents were here with me today like they were here with me close to 30 years ago and walking out there on that very same mound I stood close to 30 years ago — it was all incredible.
“I think what I’m excited most about is, now that I’m 30 years removed from Little League, this is probably the first time in these kids’ young lives where they’re going to start to dream. And that to me is the most special team and I started to dream right here on this field and my dreams came true. How many of these kids will go home today and think about possibly taking their careers to the next level and it all starts right here?”
When asked if he had a favorite memory that stood out from his days playing at Prince Field, Yocum didn’t hesitate.
“When I showed up this morning, Otto (Camejo) gave me this Dodgers shirt and I was telling a couple of people here this morning that one of my first little coaches was Mike Saladrigas, who was also my soccer coach and knew absolutely nothing about baseball,” said Yocum. “So Coach Sal took his Under-10 soccer team and put us on a baseball diamond and all of our infield was left-handed, which is a no-no because that’s not the way things usually are in baseball and guess which team we were — the Dodgers. So what happens, we wind up winning the whole thing that year with a bunch of soccer players. I guess being a Dodger was clearly an omen of things to come.”
“Seeing David start to get emotional when I started reciting his bio out there in front of the kids, I think it really brought him back,” said Camejo, now entering his fourth year as president. “When I looked at his face I could see it. He was nervous and he really felt like a kid for a second. I think I want to get this kind of a tradition going/ Some of those kids, as soon as they heard first-round pick of the Dodgers, they perked up and hinged on every word. Nothing like showing a kid a shining example of what’s possible. Sure, the percentages are really low but the bottom line is the fact that they could have that thought in the back of their mind. I have it on my bumper sticker — where dreams are born and today was a perfect example of that.”