BELLBROOK — They never play defense in all star games.
It was a barn burner of a game with two teams dueling for the lead until the very end. Ultimately it was the Giants who came out on top, beating the Braves 41-40 in the 40th annual Bellbrook T-ball All Star game, Saturday at Sackett-Wright Park in Bellbrook.
Both teams, made up of 7- and 8-year old boys and girls from the area, were all offense in front of their friends and family in their last game at the T-ball level. The Braves had the 23-20 lead through four innings, but the Giants pulled ahead in the bottom of the fifth with eight runs and were successfully able to hold off their opponents to the end.
The Giants had the 35-34 advantage heading into the final innings, but the Braves put up six runs in the top of the seventh to put the pressure back on the team in orange. They would respond, however, and down by one with two outs and the bases loaded, Riley Downing came up to the plate and hit a high fly ball towards the shortstop to bring in the winning runs.
Chaos ensued at both benches. One team may have won and the other lost, but one thing was clear - both sides were having a blast. And both coaches did their best to help the kids have fun.
“T-ball to these kids, it’s enjoyment from being around their friends and being able to play the game of baseball. Most of them actually watch it on TV or just being around to participate, and I think I heard a lot of cheering so I think they enjoyed it quite a bit,” said Giants coach Dennis Lefeld.
“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a growing experience for them and it should be a lot of fun,” Braves coach Terry Rogers echoed.
Walt Worthington helped start the Bellbrook T-ball Association 40 years ago, and it’s still going strong with the help of his wife Linda and their children. Both of their sons (Scott and David) have been through the league, as well as their children.
“I actually played in the first one, 40 years ago. He’s been doing it the same way the whole time,” said Scott. “He just got some good coaches and it kept going from there. He just believes in giving back to the community.”
Jack McLaren came up with the premise and left it in Walt’s care when he had to move away for work. Walt didn’t have much experience in teaching baseball to young kids, but he was convinced that it was something he had to do. He got involved with Doc Wright and the Lions Club to help create a coach-pitch league for the older kids to graduate, and everything continued from there. His son David joked that they call him the Bud Selig of T-ball now.
“It gives the kids an opportunity to belong to something that isn’t intense. The families come to see them because of the age, so it keeps the families involved with the children,” said Walt.
He talked about how they always had a rule to keep kids on the same team from year to year, in order to create an environment kids can go to if they’re dealing with difficult things in their lives.
“It gives the children some stability in their life, in case they don’t have any. But sometimes it’s important. It’s all about their welfare. It gets them to be attached to something.”
Saturday marked the 40th all star game for the league. While he has dealt with some difficulties, like seeing former T-ball athletes he coached down at the courthouse in handcuffs, or state-mandated concussion training, the message has remained constant the whole time.
“This thing is so critical, it’s so sensitive because you’re having an impact on a child’s life. This is the first time, in a lot of cases, where the child has had authority from somebody other than the parent. We want that to be a good experience,” said Walt.
He offered this perspective on 40 years of helping community kids.
“If you look at it, most of the parents out here weren’t even alive when we started. So I don’t know what that means and I don’t know what to say after that,” he laughed.