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16 teams, 220 first-time baseball players converge on McAdams Park to form League 42

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 28, 2014, at 8:40 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at 11:04 a.m.

Photos

It was like a scene from the movie “Field of Dreams.”

Busloads of children, and cars, SUVs and pickup trucks filled with families lined up from all directions to turn into McAdams Park on Monday night.

It was opening night of League 42, a grassroots effort to build a baseball league for kids who might not otherwise have an opportunity to play baseball. The league is named after the number worn by Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer and first African-American to play in the major leagues.

City Council member Lavonta Williams took pictures of the packed parking lots. She cheered for all 16 teams and 220 players ranging from 5 to 13 years old. She and Mayor Carl Brewer threw out the opening pitches.

“I want to hug each one of them,” said Williams, who is a board member of League 42. “I feel like we are giving birth to the League 42. We have been sitting, planning and waiting. It is here and we are ecstatic. It means bringing life back to this community.”

The idea for the league began with a Facebook post last year by Wichita Eagle sports columnist Bob Lutz. It grew into a movement with dozens of volunteers and the support of Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Northeast Optimist Club.

Lutz said he had hoped the league might draw 150 players. He proudly read the names of all 220 players and their coaches.

“This is because of the hard work of a lot of people who have gotten us to this point,” he said. “Baseball has been lacking in this community for a while. We wanted to make it an option for these kids. Unless you take the sport to them, they are not going to play. For every kid here, they are playing baseball for the first time.”

They are playing on teams with familiar names: Cardinals, Dodgers, T-ball Shockers, Panthers, Timber Rattlers, Gladiators, Wolves, Wolf Pack, Sooners, Royals, Diamondbacks, Hornets, Orioles, TNT, Giants and Purple Socks.

As Lutz read off the names, the crowd cheered and applauded while the players quickly learned to tip their hats.

Thirteen-year-old Milton Dodd stood waiting patiently for his team, the Giants, to be called.

“His whole world is about baseball,” said his mother, Cassandra Bell. “He would never have tried it without this program. Now, he walks around the house saying, ‘I’m a baseball player.’ It’s stuff like that that I think is awesome.”

For $30, each of the players have uniforms, baseball gloves and baseballs so they can practice at home.

The idea is simply to make the sport memorable, said Todd Johnson, one of the league’s organizers.

“We wanted to make this night a really special night that they wouldn’t forget,” Johnson said. “You only get one chance to launch a league.”

Angela Smith, the mother of one of the players, sang the “Star Spangled Banner” as roaring 50 mph winds kicked up dust on the fields.

When her last notes were finished and the crowd shouted “Play ball!” Lutz acknowledged the horrendous weather.

“This is baseball,” he said. “See you on the fields.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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