DALTON, Mass. — On one of the few spring days the region has enjoyed this year, the boys' summer got things started at Chamberlain Park.
Escorted by fire trucks and cheerleaders and members of the Wahconah Regional High School baseball team, the six teams of the Dalton-Hinsdale Little League paraded to the field where they will hone their skills over the next seven weeks and — they hope — on into June and July.
"A few weeks ago, I didn't think we'd be having this ceremony today," league President Ben Melle said to the crowd gathered at the field.
But thanks to the hard work of numerous volunteers and a little break from the unseasonably cold spring, everything went off without a hitch.
The American flag was raised by league alumnus and Marine Corps veteran Dominick Sondrini. The national anthem was performed by Wahconah student Shayne Haley. And the ceremonial first pitch was delivered across the plate by the league's Volunteer of the Year, Jim Lennon.
Unlike many of the volunteers standing with their teams or lining the fence around the field, Lennon does not have a child playing in the league this spring. His youngest son, Tim, aged out of the league three years ago, but Jim Lennon stayed on the league's board to help make sure the program continues to offer opportunities for youngsters in the two towns.
"It was a big part of my life growing up here," Lennon said. "I played Little League here in the late '70s, early '80s, and baseball has always been a big part of my life. My dad got drafted by the Phillies. He played back in the '50s.
"Baseball has always been my thing. It's part of life."
Lennon can remember the days when there were more than twice as many teams in the league — when the population was greater and the competition from other sports less pronounced.
But he can also remember a time in the more recent past when the Chamberlain Park field was not in nearly the pristine condition that this year's Little Leaguers found when they passed beneath a balloon arch and took the their place around the infield.
"Since I first joined the board, things have only improved here," he said. "Ben Melle has done a phenomenal job. … Oh my God, look at the field. It looks like a Major League field."
Melle made sure to thank the volunteers who made that a reality in his remarks.
"I'd like to give a special thanks to Rico Traversa and Justin Russell," Melle said. "Again, I'd like to thank the Sheriff's Department. They've been coming the last four years … they've put in hundreds of hours on this field, on the buildings."
pittsfield.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.