A West Pinellas Little League team lines up for the opening day parade.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Traditionally the Little League season, no matter where, begins with a parade of teams and parents. On Feb. 15, the West Pinellas Little League got underway with a parade that stretched halfway around the ball field in front of City Hall.
The league, which began in 1957, has 145 players registered this year from ages 4 to 16; included in that number is girls’ softball.
New league president Hope Wyant says while the parade of players is especially impressive nothing could happen without the parents.
“The parents are the most important part of this organization,” she said. “Nothing could happen without the parents, we need them.”
In addition to being the league president, Wyant is a parent as well. Her two sons, 11-year-old Zack and 9-year-old Nick, both play and have for the past three years.
“They love it and I love it too,” said Wyant. “That’s why I’m here.”
She isn’t the only parent who loves the game and supports her children. Anxiously awaiting the start of the parade was Lori Meyers. She lives in Largo but grew up in IRB. Her son Drew has been playing Little League since he was 6 years old. He’s 11 now.
“He loves it and for sure he will keep it up,” she said. “It is a great experience for him. He gets to meet all the other kids and he’s been playing with some of them for years so they are all friends.”
Meyers says she loves to come back to her hometown to watch her son play baseball.
“I love it here, Indian Rocks Beach is awesome,” she said. “My husband and I both grew up here and now my son goes to the very same school that we did,”
Not all parents are spectators at the ball field. Somebody has to coach and it usually falls to the mom or dad who wants to pass on some knowledge to the kids. Mike Bennett, another Largo resident, is one of those. He coaches the Red Wings AA team. His is a team of 8 to 10 year olds.
“I love it, I love being around the kids,” he said. “I love the camaraderie of being with a team and it is fun to watch the kids improve. From year to year they improve immensely. I intend to do this as long as I can.”
As he was talking along came his son, Blake, 10, an avowed fan as well as a player. His favorite team?
“Do I have to say it; do I have to say the Rays?” He laughed then admitted the Rays were his favorite team but close behind were the Red Sox.
“When the Rays got knocked out of the playoffs last year I cheered for the Sox,” he said.
Blake said he has some Ray’s memorabilia that he treasures.
“I got a ball signed by Evan Longoria,” he said. “I got it before a game last year between the Rays and the Yankees. And I have a ball that David Price threw to me before a game.”
Wyant, who lives in Largo but operates a business, Zen Healing Massage, in Indian Rocks Beach, said the city has been very cooperative with the league.
“The new City Manager Gregg Mims has been very helpful,” she said. “He has responded to all our needs one way or the other.”
Wyant said sponsors are a major source of income for the league along with the concession stand. Now, she said, in fact they are looking for a major sponsor to help with a big project involving the concession stand.
“That concession stand needs to be re-built,” she said. “We need a major sponsor to help with that project. It is important to our future.”