A salute to Martin, then it’s ‘Play Ball!’

Paige Buckley, Special to the Reporter
May. 2, 2013

Savin Hill Little League players and their coaches paraded to McConnell Park on Saturday. 	Photo by Paige BuckleySavin Hill Little League players and their coaches paraded to McConnell Park on Saturday. Photo by Paige Buckley

The Savin Hill Little League opened its season last Saturday with players, friends, and families marching from the Little House on East Cottage Street to a short ceremony at their home fields at McConnell Park. Though largely joyful, this year’s celebration was marked by the absence of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who played for the Rangers and was killed in the Marathon Monday bomb explosions.

“Everybody made a little extra effort to make sure the kids felt good about playing baseball again,” said Mike McCann, the league’s treasurer. “The focus was on starting again.”

Boston firefighters turned out in large numbers wearing baseball t-shirts bearing Richard’s name and his number 8 and emblazoned with the phrase “We are Martin’s firefighters” on the front. Behind a vintage police car and a fire truck with a banner honoring the Richard family and the firefighter’s bagpipe band, the Little Leaguers carried a banner that read, “We are one team.” Boston Police officers wore “Boston Strong” t-shirts and a handful of state troopers stood at attention as the players and their families poured onto the fields.

As Martin Richard’s No. 8 jersey hung empty on the park’s fence, league president Tony King acknowledged the community’s loss, but also its strengths. He said he was confident that Martin was with them on the field, and would continue to be. A moment of silence was held in the boy’s honor, and emergency responders caught the ceremonial first pitches. Many local politicians were in attendance and Governor Deval Patrick stopped by after the event to give out hugs and well wishes.

The Savin Hill League made the news earlier this year when its equipment locker was broken into and much of its gear stolen. That coverage sparked an outpouring of support and donations earmarked to replace the lost gear. King announced to the players, friends, and families gathered on the field that because the gear has been replaced, all future donations earmarked for that cause will be forwarded to the Richard Family Fund. Martin Richard’s mother and sister were seriously wounded in the blast.

Though the tragedy of Marathon Monday brought more outside attention to this annual event, for community members the league’s opening day is always a big deal. Joe Boyle, a former member of the league’s board of directors and current coach of the Royals T-Ball team, said the league is a testament to Dorchester’s unique community spirit. He continues to coach although all three of his sons, now in their 20s, have long stopped playing in the league.

“I’m just one of those neighborhood guys who just likes to be part of a solid community,” he said.

Boyle noted the uptick in recent years of former little leaguers returning to coach in the league. Though most do not yet have children in the league, these young men and women “appreciated the tutelage done for them and are now giving back,” he said.

After the festivities were finished, the media trucks pulled away and the Little Leaguers headed to the concession stand for their free hot dogs and sodas before the games began. Tommy Curley of Neponset said he thought the ceremony was a fitting tribute, and that his son was ready to play ball.

And Joe Boyle’s T-Ball team came from behind to tie their first game against the Red Sox. “Nobody had to go home sad,” he said. “It was a real class act.”