As the sun set on another Babe Ruth World Series in the City of Westfield on Thursday evening, it finally dawned on me why I am still here.
No, not here on this planet, but rather here in Westfield, Massachusetts, or more specifically at The Westfield News. During the last two decades, while so many of my fellow writers in the industry have bounced around to one entity or another, I have kept my feet firmly planted in the Whip City.
I’ve sat in a room full of Patriots watching — no, not game film — highlights from Super Bowl victories as they played out on the big screen in a Boston theater. I’ve tracked down young Celtics legend Paul Pierce in a back alle in Springfield shortly after a preseason game. (That’s a story for another time.)
Memorable moments for sure, but not as long-lasting or fulfilling as watching a team from Fargo, North Dakota complete a 56-0 run with a championship victory, one year after coming up a game short of earning a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The excitement and passion displayed by players, coaches, and their fans at the Babe Ruth 13-Year-Old World Series championship game at Bullens Field was goose-bump-inducing.
It was a chance to see baseball in its purest form, and, if we are ever-so-lucky, possibly witnessing the next Mike Trout.
While the game played out on the field, I admired the volunteerism on display by people from the Greater Westfield area — several of whom were parents of local ball players — who cooked or sold food and drinks at the concession stand, sold tickets at the front gate, worked the souvenir tents, and provided announcements from the press box.
(By the way, thank you Bob Eak for the shout out Thursday night . . . And while I’m in the giving mood, thank you so so so soooooooo much to Annalise Eak for providing additional game summaries throughout much of the tournament.)
Although Westfield came up short in its quest for a World Series championship berth — the Whip City’s ball club gave an All-Star worthy effort — there were still moving moments like when eight-year-old bat boy Matt Schortmann, of Westfield, who was assigned to Fargo, was asked to celebrate with the World Series winners.
Westfield Babe Ruth 13-Year-Old All-Stars manager Dick Lenfest, a former general manager of the Pittsfield Mets and current athletic director at Westfield State University, like several coaches before him, gave up his summer to further educate local kids about the game of baseball.
Former players and coaches of Westfield World Series teams of the past came together on one very special night. A city remembered a father, husband, brother, friend and coach in civic leader and school committee member Kevin Sullivan, who passed away way too early last year. Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan and other local politicians made several appearances throughout the week-long tournament.
Talented local singers graciously shared their amazing voices with people from all over the country, as far as Hawaii. And while we are speaking about our young islanders, hopefully you had the chance to see some of the Hawaiian ball players, some of whom hailed from the 2018 Little League championship squad.
Watching Westfield Babe Ruth League President Dan Welch throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the tournament’s final night was symbolic. Welch has thrown his heart and soul into Babe Ruth Baseball locally, helping upgrade the facilities at Bullens Field, all while bringing in outside people to Westfield to share in the city’s sports history.
There have been others along the way – guys like Jim Jachym, Tom Sgroi, Jim Cloutier, Bill Daley, Dan Genovese, and local Babe Ruth officials Bill Amanti and Phil Aucella – who have helped keep the spirit of baseball alive in the city.
While participation among youths in the sport and attendance figures at some Major League ballparks across the country continue to decline, it is people like these and others who give the entire nation a promising future.
Don’t worry if you missed out though. I hear there’s a very talented group of 11-12-year-old Little Leaguers who, if they stay committed, are expected to do some very big things next season in Westfield. For the Whip City, that’s a home run.