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Play ball! Little League kicks off 2022 season – podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On Saturday at College Park, 489 youth baseball players received a ceremonial introduction including a parade in front of friends and family as part of opening day festivities for the 2022 Claremont Little League season.

From the teenage players of the majors, to the youngsters of the farm and T-Ball divisions, each player and coach walked the baseline clockwise from first while tipping their hats to family members and spectators cheering from the bleachers. In total, 39 teams, including 39 managers and 78 coaches were introduced by Little League president Jenny Ballesteros, after which the teams collected in the outfield.

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Ballesteros then called the 12-year-olds to the pitcher’s mound to help younger players and newcomers recite the Little League pledge. Next, members of the Claremont City Council took to the diamond to shake hands and take pictures with the all-star teams of 2021, followed by Mayor Jed Leano throwing the first pitch to officially launch the 2022 season.

Caden Spenrad, a 10-year-old on the Major League Reds, said it was “very hard” not to play two years ago as his team was undefeated in the first four games before the pandemic ruined the season.

“We finally get to play again and … [I’m] not just sitting at home all day,” Spenrad said excitedly.

He shared he plays baseball mainly for one reason: to have fun, a sentiment that was widely shared. He added that Little League taught him that baseball is not all about winning and losing, but about how much fun you have along the way.

In the not-so-distant future, Spenrad hopes to play for an official Major League Baseball team and added that he is a fan of many professional players, but that Cody Bellinger is his favorite.

With new batting cages at the park along with stands, a fresh Claremont Little League logo, new team apparel and faces, Ballesteros said there is a lot to look forward to this season. She’s excited to witness the players grow as people and players.

“People say practice makes perfect, but I think practice makes progress and that’s something you really see on the baseball field. From game one to game 20, the progress that we see is amazing,” the CLL president said. “Baseball for me is about learning how to overcome adversity. There’s going to be a lot of times where they’re not going to get the call they want and they got to keep plugging forward. I think [baseball’s] a good metaphor for life … things aren’t always going to go your way and you’ve got to come back up and try.”

She added that the competition is “about working hard and putting in effort and always trying your best.”

Though Ballesteros expressed disappointment about seeing some 12- and 13-year-old all-stars age out this year, she also excited to see who will come up to take their place.

Opening day concluded in the afternoon with minor league division teams playing games across College Park’s three diamonds. In addition, hundreds of players and parents walked the park to purchase raffle tickets, classic Little League jerseys and pulled pork sandwiches from the Patterson family-run snack bar.

It was a successful opening day that parents and players won’t soon forget, especially after all that COVID-19 has put the program through over the last two years. In 2021, the pandemic upended CLL’s opening day ceremony, but thankfully the season was not canceled.

“Last year when we started, our stands were closed [to spectators]. It’s just nice to not have any COVID restrictions right now,” Ballesteros said.

In 2021, six of Claremont Little League All-Star teams played in the championship game of their respective division, according to Ballesteros. The nine-year-olds won their district title game while the eight- and 11-year-olds were runners-up.

The 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds and juniors, won postseason games that advanced them to the state championships for the first time in league history.

According to Claremont Little League Vice President Oliver Weiler, the juniors ended last year’s tournament with a state runner-up title, the 12-year-olds made it to the state quarter-finals, and took Fourth place. The 10-year-olds got knocked out after two games, “But still did a great job battling through from district to section to the state tournament,” Weiler said.

CLL teams play in District 20. The 2022 season runs until May 7, and then on May 9, the Claremont Little League city tournament begins with all-star drafts on Sunday, May 15. For more information, visit https://www.claremontlittleleague.org.

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