Saturday, August 9, 2008

A memory stirred, and for the last time.

My goodness. As I sit in my den this Saturday morning, the sun is shining. It’s been a long time since we’ve had good sunshine. I understand from the Weather Channel, since we have no local morning news, that there is another storm heading our way, though, for later. As it stands right now, though, it’s beautiful outside and Sunday should be really good day, too. In any event, another weekend is underway.

I did watch several minutes off and on of the Olympics Opening Friday night. It was intermittent, however, as I mainly watched a Little League Regional Championship game from Florida. More on that in a moment. During inning breaks, I switched over to the Olympics because even as much as I dislike watching most of the games, the Opening Ceremonies are usually quite spectacular. Since the ones in Beijing were actually held hours before the telecast, there had been many reports that they lived up to expectations.

So I watched at Little League inning breaks. I must admit that the effects displayed were just as spectacular as the early reports had indicated. The colors and lighting of the costumes were like none I recall ever seeing before. The ball of the World with the people going around was beautiful. And the performers dancing in the air was mind boggling. The Opening Ceremonies lived up to all expectations. But I still preferred the kids playing baseball.

The Little League game was a great memory maker for me. I umpired my first baseball game in the park in which last night’s Southeast Regional Championship was held. That ballpark is diagonally by one block across from my parent’s former home in Gulfport. It hasn’t changed much since I was there. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s, long after I had moved back to Maine from Florida, that it became the home of the SE Regionals and has continued that role every year since. But last night was its last. The regional games will be moved to another venue next season.

Umpiring came naturally, I guess. My father had been an umpire for more years than I could remember back then. I used to go to his games just to watch. I never played baseball, but the role of the umpire was indelibly ingrained in me. When he retired in Maine and moved to Gulfport, which for you non-Florida geographically knowledgeable folk, is just outside the south end of St. Petersburg, he volunteered to umpire at the park which we could see from our front window.

I was with him at the park one night when the other umpire was unable to work. My dad had a brief discussion with the LL officials there and a new umpire was born. It was a good but short-lived time. My education and social life sort of got in the way. After all, I was still in my late teens. I did return to umpiring in Maine, and again, it was as a volunteer in Little League. Eventually I moved on to working other games.

I’ve watched the Southeast Regional LL championships for the past few years on ESPN, not out of a loyalty for the kids in the region but because the park stirred up memories of my time in Florida. When I heard the announcer say last night that it would be the last time the regional championships would be held in Gulfport, I must admit I was just a wee bit saddened as another part of my life was ending. That won’t change my love for Little League and youth sports, though. I’ll be following this road to Williamsport and the Little League World Series forever. And for that, we thank NESN, ESPN, and ABC.

I hope those of you who enjoy the Olympics have a great time watching. And for football and Red Sox fans, you too enjoy your games this weekend. Me? I’ll be watching Little League. See you Monday.


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