By Jenna Sampson
Friday, June 28, 2013
When the Vista National Little League All-Stars take the field tomorrow for their first game, hosting the area tournament, they’re not just playing a home game on their hometown turf. They’re forever joining the storied history of a league and a ball field—a place where dreams begin. Whether it’s to win a starting spot or the league championship, or to be the team to win the Little League World Series, sandlot dreams are never forgotten.
When I was in Little League, I didn’t think too much about dreams at the time. I just loved playing ball. I was a scrappy tomboy—the only girl in the league. My brothers and I loved spending time at the field, whether we were playing or not. I’d run for foul balls in the parking lot, work in the snack bar selling chili cheese nachos and hot dogs, or sit in the “pit” waiting for my game to start. Of course, I may have had a crush or two on the boys, but I’d never tell.
As soon as my cleats hit the asphalt when I stepped out of the car, I meant business. Narrowing my gaze under my carefully molded Dodgers hat, my mind and heart was focused on one thing: playing well. My competitive spirit came alive during those few seasons, and to this day, I’m still not sure who was more competitive…the parents or us players! Little League was a big deal, all the way around. We were taught to win and lose with character, even though some fun ribbing between coaches took place. We were taught to play hard and play honest; to respect the umpires and coaches; and to hustle.
My sandlot dreams came true in June 1992, when I was named to the VNLL All-Star Team—the first girl in league history to do so. To this day, it’s the only trophy I’ve ever kept, despite playing at the college level. I’ll never forget my first all-star practice, when players from different teams were brought together to form a new team, and our team hats were replaced with our sharp new all-star hats. We were the best of the best, and our summer was thrilling. We won, and we won, and we won. Our ability to play with excellence and heart showed up on the scoreboard. Stellar pitching, sound defense, clutch hitting…it all added up to victory. Either that, or it was the pair of lucky socks our coach wore, that yellowed a little more with each passing game. Sadly, our World Series dreams ended in Yucaipa, just a few tournaments away from Williamsport, PA. But for us, it was an amazing run. We returned home having gone as far as any team from our league to date. We were proud, and tired, and hungry for pizza.
Today, the guys from that team have grown up to be policemen, firefighters, businessmen…and then there’s me—the sportswriter. The memories fade slightly with time, but it’s amazing how a trip to the Vista ball field can bring them flooding back. The moths fluttering in the lights, the dew on the evening grass, the announcer calling out names, the umpire brushing home plate, and the sound of cleats hitting the dirt as our players exit the dugout and take the field. Tonight, a young group of excited ball players will be going to sleep with big dreams of tomorrow. To all of you, I say, ‘Welcome to the legacy. ‘