St. Croix’s Elmo Plaskett Little League opened its 50th season with parades and ceremonies Saturday and Sunday in Christiansted and Frederiksted. This is tradition; every year the league kicks off baseball season with great fanfare.
Saturday morning at Fort Christiansvaern, two gentlemen carried the EPLL banner, brandishing the league’s motto – Character, Courage, Loyalty – and led the parade of youngsters down Hospital Street to D.C. Canegata Ballpark.
Parade Marshal Luz Armstrong, a well-known ladies softball player in days of yore and a contributor to the sport for 30 years, waved to the crowd from her queen’s chair in the back of a shiny red pickup.
Next came the St. Croix Educational Complex Marching Band, complete with flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, drums, symbols, flags, and majorettes.
Then the main event, the reason for the celebration – young ballplayers with new uniforms and dreams of diamond glory marched behind the band and stepped high to the beat of the music. Older players brought up the rear along with Patricia Smith, vice president of baseball for the league.
“I’m from the old school, where you went outside and played ball in the neighborhood,” said Smith, who grew up in Gallows Bay. “Then I played in junior high at Elena Christian.”
Although she no longer plays softball, Smith enjoys helping out with the league.
“We are technically giving back,” said Smith, who works with 13- to 17-year-old baseball players. Little League players range from ages four in the younger divisions to 17 in the older ones.
Jamilah Henry, in charge of public relations for the Elmo Plaskett East Little League, explained that four to six-year olds play tee ball in the league’s Pee Wee division. Henry and her daughter, Jahnea Lynch, coach the Diamond Dolls, a Pee Wee girls team.
Henry said Luz Armstrong, now 75, “was one of those back then who did a lot for softball. She hosted tournaments and held trainings for the players. Her grandkids play with the Elmo Plaskett Little League now.”
Henry herself played softball from the time she was in elementary school straight through high school.
As the marching band paraded into and around the circumference of the field at Canegata Saturday, teams lined the diamond, and the program began with Malcolm McGregor as master of ceremonies. With much ado, he introduced Armstrong to the fans. And then he called Ismarie Gonsales to the microphone. Gonsales, an eighth grader at John H. Woodson Jr. High, sang the National Anthem and the Anthem of the Virgin Islands to an audience close to tears.
Renee Hansen, president of the board of directors of the EPLL, held a roll call of teams: Mets, Diamond Dolls, Lil Socks, Chuis, Dodgers, Spartans, Little Yankees, Lady Lions, NCLB (No Child Left Behind), Berries, Infernos, Tornadoes, Barras, Rangers, Orioles, Simbas, Indians, Giants, Cobras, Royals and Yard Dogs. Parents and fans cheered for each team.
Steve Parris, district administer of the Virgin Islands Little League, addressed the players.
“What you are going to gain here playing ball, you will carry with you for the rest of your lives,” he told them.
Other dignitaries who spoke or attended the ceremony included Gov. Albert Bryan, Sen. Javan James, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, and Mona Barnes, among others.
“I’ve played for four years, ever since I was four,” said young Colton Lewis while waiting for the games to begin. “This is my first year to play with the Spartans.”
His mother, Stephanie Kolb, chimed-in with praise for the Spartan coach, Coach Anthony.
“He tailors his approach to the needs of each player but still commands the attention and respect of everyone. I’ve been impressed with him and with the league,” Kolb said.
Time to play ball. First, the Spartans took on the Lil Yankees, both in the seven to nine year-old division. Rashaun Petersen of the Lil Yankees stepped to the plate as first batter up. First catcher for the Spartans, Omar Budhoo, assumed his position and, as is custom for teams in this age bracket, a coach pitched. Makeo Frederick, with the Spartans, stood beside the coach on the mound.
In the next two games, NCLB played the Lady Lions in the 13 and under softball division, and the Panthers faced the Diamond Dolls in the Pee Wee division.
The Virgin Islands boasts a history of young baseball players who have gone on to play professionally in the major and minor leagues. Valmy Thomas is recognized as the first Virgin Islander to sign with the majors.
Elmo Plaskett, born in Frederiksted in 1938, played with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1962 and 1963. He also played 13 seasons in the minors and spent several winters playing in Puerto Rico.
His friend Horace Clarke, another native Crucian, signed on with the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres. Joe Christopher played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Mets, and the Boston Red Sox.
Virgin Islanders who have played with or scouted for professional baseball teams also include Al McBean, Jerry Browne, Henry Cruz, and, more recently, Midre Cummings and Arnold Braithwaite, to name a few.
Jerry Browne’s sister, Patricia Browne, has served on the EPLL board of directors for 20 years, according to Jamilah Henry.
“She is our veteran board member,” Henry said.
Festivities continued Sunday in Frederiksted, beginning with the parade from Freedom City Service Station to the Reinholdt Jackson Sports Complex in Estate Whim.