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Little League opening day has smiles, tears

By Joseph Slacian

Saturday was a day of joy and a day of sadness at the Field of Dreams.

The joy came from the fact that, if all goes well, for the first time in two years, the Wabash Little League will be able to have a full season. The 2020 season was abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sadness came when the league, en masse, remembered two players who lost their lives in the past year. They dedicated a batting cage and memorial marker to the two players, Nakota Kelly and Kayden Sendelbach.

League President Bryan Dillon opened ceremonies by welcoming everyone back to the complex.

“Are you ready to play baseball this year,” he asked and was greeted with a rousing “Yes” from players gathered on two different fields to help practice social distancing. “We waited a long time to come back this season, and believe me, we missed all of you.

“We missed the opportunity to get together last year, to do sticker sales, we didn’t get to talk to you, we didn’t have an opening day ceremony. Everything was a little different in our lives. We’ve all be through a lot, with schools being displaced, this virus, but today we’re here to play baseball.”

Dillon told the players that the league planned for a full season.

“We’re going to play this thing through. We’re going to have what we call a normal season. We’re going to play our tournaments, and then we’re going to send you back to school in August,” he said, drawing a round of groans from the athletes.

While the 2020 season was abbreviated, work didn’t stop at the fields.

“Take a look around,” Dillon encouraged those present. “Things have been added. We got a new scoreboard for T-ball and the Rookie League. We got a new scoreboard down at the City Park. We’ve got two new batting cages for you guys to use. And we want you to use these things.

“But also, while you’re out here, we want you to take care of what is yours. These are your ball diamonds. This is your facility, and a lot of people work hard to make sure it’s nice for you. We want you to do little things like pick up your trash … While you’re waiting for the ball to be hit to you, stop digging holes in the dirt and the grass. Be a good teammate. Be a good partner for this complex, so it will stay nice for the years to come.”

The dedication ceremony took place at two new batting cages located just north of the concession stand. Dillon praised and thanked Wabash businessman Mike Williams, who built the batting cages for the league.

Williams, after learning about Nakota and Kayden, took the building one step further and asked for permission to create a memorial for the two. Dillon and Williams unveiled the memorial, which has two plaques designed by Megan Dafoe with the players’ names, pictures and quotes about baseball.

After it was unveiled, relatives of the fallen players came up to view the memorial, and then players from the American League Tigers and Pirates, the two boys’ former teams, were asked to approach the memorial and reflect on their teammates.

Dillon encouraged the players to remember the two boys whenever they use the cages. He also encouraged them to take care of the cages, and to let anyone neglecting the cages to know they are disrespecting the memories of the two youngsters.

He also urged the players to begin a tradition of touching the two plaques whenever they use the batting cage, to help carry on the memories of Nakota and Kayden.

In lieu of a traditional opening pitch, the Wabash Little League’s Challenger Division was spotlighted. The division is an adaptive baseball program that allows individuals with physical and intellectual challenges participate in baseball.

The youngsters were introduced one by one and, accompanied by their game buddies – members of the Wabash Police and Wabash Fire departments – made their way to the diamond to the cheers of those present.

More on the Wabash Little League and its schedule of games can be found at wabashlittleleague.org.

 

Posted on 2021 Apr 27