Going out with a bang

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A season-ending celebration for Ken-Caryl Little League is the highlight of three months of hard work by the players and coaches

By Michael Hicks

Dinger, the mascot for the Colorado Rockies, high-fived every player and most every coach who crossed home plate at Community Park.

The fun-loving purple dinosaur mascot playfully shook his hand as to mock the number of high-fives he handed out, but it was all in good spirit. He was having a good time as were the 36 teams, ranging from T-Ball up to the Majors, who took part in the end-of-season Ken-Caryl Little League celebration June 14.

“This is my favorite day of the year, and it’s the most hectic day of the year,” Ken-Caryl Little League President Andy Florence said. “The season is long; it’s hard. Every teams plays 19, 20 games. Emotions get into it sometimes, and it gets hard. But you come out here and see kids in their uniforms, and they’re smiling and laughing, and you realize this is what it’s really all about.”

A parade, a bouncy house, face-painting, food and, yes, baseball games. It was the culmination of a season that started three months ago with the first practice. Players received yearbooks, winning teams received trophies and parents and friends alike received cherished memories to last a lifetime.

“It’s an exciting day. I think it’s a really exciting day for the little ones,” said 12-year-old Jared Sharpe, who pitched a complete-game two-hitter for the Scrappers in a 4-1 win over the Volcanoes for the Major League championship. He walked two and struck out eight.

The championship games in the AA Minors, AAA Minors and Major Leagues were just a small part of the celebration, but they were important factors for the players involved.

“It was pretty scary, but I got through it. I think our whole team did really good,” Sharpe said.

Teammate Ben Bailey, who along with Sharpe scored all four of the Scrappers’ runs, was looking forward to playing for a championship.

“We had a lot of practices that were tiring. We had to put in a lot of energy and confidence into trying to make it to the championship,” the 12-year-old rising seventh-grader at Deer Creek Middle School said.

The Tigers topped the Orioles 8-1 in the AA Minor League finals, while the Bees stung the Blue Claws 5-2 in the AAA Minor League championship game. But the end-of-the-season celebration was more than about winning and losing. It’s rejoicing the past three months and for who the players and coaches have now become.

“That’s what Little League is all about. It’s not about who’s the best team, who’s winning. Our three mottos are courage, character and loyalty. We teach kids to be good sports. We teach kids to strive to do their best,” said John Manta, manager of the Major League Volcanoes. “We give a lot of awards to those that try the hardest. We don’t give a lot of awards for kids who are the best necessarily.

“A lot of it is not just about getting better as baseball players, but being less afraid to bat, to play the tough positions. Most of our teams don’t fit kids at one position. They put them in their really scary position. They do that to build their character and to give them courage,” Manta said.

While the players are the ones reaping the most benefits from Little League, the coaches are learning just as much, maybe in some cases more, about themselves and their leadership abilities.

“We believe in that philosophy so much that we partner with the Positive Coaching Alliance. It’s not about winning. It’s striving to win,” Florence said. “The most important thing is teaching life lessons. We have all of our coaches go through this program. We want them to say, ‘Hey, at the end of the day, very few of these kids are going to make a living out of baseball.’ We’d be better served teaching these kids how to transfer this from the baseball field and to give them a great foundation for life.”

Approximately 500 people — players, league officials, parents, coaches and friends — attended the season-ending celebration, and Florence is quick to note that if not for those parents, league officials and volunteers, none of this would be feasible.

“It is a true community. It’s not me at all. I could not do this without the parents, volunteers and all their hours,” Florence said. “The board of directors has been fantastic. The parents stepped up to organize all of this. I just couldn’t do this without them. I put out a call for help and I always get help. We couldn’t do it without their help.”

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.