BCLL season opens with emotional tribute

Published 5:56 pm Saturday, April 18, 2015

Young Bennett’s Creek Little League players along with coaches and parents gather on a ball field during the BCLL 47th Season Opener event on Friday.

Young Bennett’s Creek Little League players along with coaches and parents gather on a ball field during the BCLL 47th Season Opener event on Friday.

A large crowd came out for the Bennett’s Creek Little League 47th Season Opener on Friday evening that featured former MLB player Wayne Gomes as guest speaker and also honored two former BCLL players who have passed away.

BCLL president Chip Ambrosino said this opener was more emotional than others, particularly because of the death of 6-year-old Mason Sheets, who drowned in a small retention pond across the street from his home on March 25.

“As a president, that is the first one I’ve lost within my league,” Ambrosino said, as Sheets was already signed up to return this year, a member of the Coach Pitch Yankees.

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Addressing the crowd on Friday, Ambrosino said Mason “had a contagious smile,” quite a personality and “he loved the New York Yankees.”

As a way to honor Mason, the league paid for every team in the Coach Pitch division to have a patch put on the sleeve of their uniforms, depicting a hand giving a thumbs up.

Some of the teams in the other divisions have also participated in the “Thumbs Up for Mason” recognition by putting the patch on their uniforms.

Ambrosino honored the Sheets family, as well as the family of Travis Gilbert.

Gilbert had played in Bennett’s Creek Little League from 1991 to 1995, enjoying unprecedented success and making the all-star team every year. He got into a car accident at the age of 25 and became a quadriplegic. He later died in May 2013 due to complications from his condition.

His grandfather gave a short speech honoring him, read a poem and encouraged all the players present that when they swat the ball during a game, “remember those who have gone before you.”

Earlier in the evening, Wayne Gomes spoke to the players and parents gathered.

Gomes is a Hampton Roads native who graduated from Phoebus High School in 1990. He played in Phoebus Little League and later for Old Dominion University. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies as the fourth overall pick in the first round of the MLB draft in 1993.

He later had stints with the San Francisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox, and after completing his MLB career, he played in a Mexican league.

During his speech, Gomes urged all involved in the BCLL to focus on making the players’ experience an enjoyable one, particularly because they are so young at this point.

“Let’s let the kids have fun!” he said.

After his speech, Gomes threw out the official first pitch of the season to Vinny Ambrosino.

Near the beginning of the ceremony, previous all-star teams that finished as District 6 champions were honored.

Each of the current 27 teams in the league created baskets stuffed with items, and the baskets went on sale Friday during an auction designed to raise funds for the league.

Ambrosino said the auction typically brings in $1,500 to $2,000, and a lot of it goes toward field improvements.

“The 45th year, I was able to put a restroom in here,” he said. “We had the road paved. We bought all-new bleachers. So that’s where a lot of money goes — capital improvements.”

Games for Bennett’s Creek Little League’s new season officially began on April 18, and they will conclude on June 14.