Food, fun, and prizes mark the start of baseball season

Photos by Kyle Headlee / The Valley Chronicle
The Cubs pose with the Riverside Sheriff’s Colorguard.

■ Kyle Headlee / Contributed

The smells of freshly raked dirt, brand new white chalk, and crisp cut grass are in the air as baseball season approaches the valley. For many years, Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District has stepped up to give the kids in the San Jacinto Valley an opening day ceremony they would never forget, and 2019 was no different.
Even though the absence of Michael Paul (former Valley-Wide Vice President who retired recently) was felt, Rene R. Gonzales, current Valley-Wide Vice President, and the rest of his team put on quite a memorial event. There were attractions for all ages, including free raffles, food trucks, and specialty craft vendors. Soto’s custom-made hand-stitched and bound gloves were there offering baseball glove repair or the opportunity to design and buy custom gloves. If handmade memorabilia are more your thing, you could find Craft N Scrap With Tina where she offered custom-made sports keepsakes for any team and sport.

The Longhorns softball team is ready to play in 2019.

The ceremony itself was very positive and encouraging. Many of the valley’s members of Congress gave speeches about upcoming things changing in the valley, but the whole thing started with a beautiful national anthem and presentation of the flag by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Colorguard.
The best moment was when Matt Luke (former major league player for the Los Angeles Dodgers) took the microphone and addressed the kids. He said he wanted to share three main points with them to help them become better baseball players and people.
The first point, he said, is: – “hustle.” No matter what you are doing, you have to hustle. Someone with all the talent in the world who doesn’t hustle will get beaten by someone with zero talent who is willing to give 100 percent effort in everything they do, said Luke. He told the kids that this doesn’t only apply in baseball, but also applies in the classroom or at home.
Point number two:- “Sportsmanship is everything,” he explained to the kids and parents. Proper sportsmanship, respecting the game, and respecting each other is everything. Whether you are teammates or rivals, the game of baseball is more than just winning and losing.

Former Dodger Matt Luke signs balls for Little Leaguers.

Luke shared a story with the players about his rookie season with the Dodgers. He was in a slump and couldn’t hit a ball to save his life. The more he focused on that, the worse his at-bats were becoming.
It wasn’t until a player named Sammy Sosa (who played on the opposite team) pulled him to the side and told him “Hey Matt, relax! Go out there and have fun.” Luke said he took his advice and finished the game with two hits. The fact that his opponent took the time to put his arms around him and encourage him to get out of the slump is what baseball is all about.
Luke’s third and final point was a good one: “Keep the game fun.” He reminded all of the coaches and parents that their kids aren’t in the major leagues, so don’t treat them like they are. It is important to keep the game fun because that’s why we fell in love with it in the first place.
Luke wanted the parents to know that when he compares his 11-year career as a professional to his 11-year career as a Little Leaguer, it’s the memories of playing with his friends as a child that come to mind first. Keeping the game fun is a key part of the process that develops the passion it takes to get to the next level. Valley-Wide’s opening day in 2019 was a great event for coaches, players, and families. One player from the Astros (Adrian Hernandez) even told me, “I can’t wait for the season to start!”
So now it’s time to pick up those bats and play ball!

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