They Make Baseball and Softball Happen

Spring is here (or almost). Which means only one thing in Benicia: Baseball and softball are breaking out all over. More than 900 boys and girls from the ages of 3 to 18 will play these sports in town this year. In fact, they already are, and have been since January.

No doubt you’ve seen them in action if you’ve been to Community Park or a school park or the two baseball fields on the east side of First. The excitement and drama of Opening Day occurs for both Benicia Girls Fastpitch Softball and Benicia Little League on the busy first Saturday of March.

Given this small town’s long tradition and support of youth sports, none of this activity can accurately fall under the heading of “Hidden Benicia,” the title of this column. There is one big aspect of these games, however, that is often out of view, largely unsung, and sometimes even taken for granted: All the volunteers who make it all happen.

“We have 200 volunteers this season,” says Benicia Little League President Joe Bateman.

“It’s a big number but with 600 kids playing baseball, you’re gonna need 200 volunteers.”

Jobs paid merely in expressions of gratitude include managers, coaches, player agents, team parents, groundskeepers, scorekeepers, and some umpiring positions. This season, the league is opening the concession stand at Maria Field for games held there. Katherine Wills will be in charge. A volunteer, naturally.

Including the president, there are 12 volunteers on the BLL Board of Directors.

They are: Austin Grey, Rob Trost, Chris Dao, Marty Jones, Robinson Wills (Katherine’s son and the great grandson of Major League Baseball all-time great Maury Wills), Luke Bergeson, Chris Cohen, J.D. Heckamon, Donovan Olech and Eli Nolan. We wanted to list all these names because, man, these people put in some serious time, clocking 500 hours or more a season with some combining their board duties with managing or coaching or other jobs.

It’s the same over at Girls Fastpitch Softball.

Lots of people doing double shifts, logging lots of hours. “Sometimes I feel like it’s my full-time job, but I love it,” says Amber Robinson, who is league president as well as webmaster for its online site.

Over 300 girls are participating in softball this year, requiring about 90 volunteers to hold tryouts, coach the teams, groom the fields, organize the all-important post-game snacks, and on and on and on. It is easy to see how the softballers might face some organizational challenges, given that their youngest division, the Pee-Wees, are three and four years old. Little League’s T-ball doesn’t start until the boys reach the more senior age of five.

Some parents continue to donate their time even after their children have aged out of the program because they enjoy being around young people and believe so strongly in the value of youth sports. “This is a really good town with a lot of very involved parents,” says Bateman. “I’ve heard that some cities have problems getting volunteers for Little League. You don’t have to ask a lot here. It’s a tight-knit community. A lot of people want to help.”

Bateman’s counterpart in softball concedes that her program has a little more trouble “trying to find people that are able and willing to help,” says Robinson. “It’s hard. It’s a big-time commitment. We understand people have to balance their schedules between jobs, family and our sport.”

Nevertheless, she adds, “We love the sport and we do it for the girls….

….It’s not just about scoring runs and winning games. We call it a family. The girls have their sisters playing with them and you can feel it through and through.” Spoken like a true volunteer. 

Fastpitch Softball has a whopping 24 positions on its board, which is going to severely challenge our determination to list as many of these unsung, unpaid heroes as we can in this article. A few people do two jobs. But here we go anyhow: Robinson, Kathy Sullivan Edwards, Dometrius Fowler, Chris Manzi, Steve Green, Ray Wang, Dave Jump, Dylan Chinea, Kelly Brown, Dustin Bertolluci, Veronica Petit, Danielle Fowler, Bob Morgan, Mike Haro, Chris Galligan, Jamie Schlee, Andrea Deluca, Corey Ott, Katrina Fineman and Jen Haywood.

Play ball!

Photo by Cara Bateman