By Mike Longo Jr.
What a thrilling ride to be behind the body and lens of a camera for more than 34 years! Professionally creating images that freeze a moment in time at a sporting event has been fulfilling.
I've been afforded the opportunity to cover Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, Olympics, All-Star Games, Final Four, Playoffs, and sports at the professional, college and high school levels. However, this article isn't about me or any accomplishments or awards.
With a little bit of so-called downtime, nothing pressing on the schedule, no deadlines, I did just that. Yes, of course, I had a camera, and yes it was a sporting event. So much for downtime, but this was different.
Sometimes in the daily ritual called life, we need to step back, breathe and recharge. Simply put, it's about a photographer getting back to the root of sport, namely baseball.
Kennedy Township’s baseball complex is where I found that calming, peaceful feeling, solace if you will. There I had the chance to be with a special group of 8-year-old and under baseball players from Montour and freeze some of their special moments.
No McCutcheon, Alonso, Judge or any other multi-million dollar athletes past or present. Those stars were replaced by stars named Tielsch, Wydra and Fabus just to mention a few.
The setting was an all-star tournament consisting of five teams from Montour, Bethel Park, South Fayette, Upper St. Clair and Peters Township. They played in the heat, rain and blazing summer sun with no complaints. Bracketing was a round-robin format complete with back-to-back doubleheaders throughout the days culminating with the championship game Sunday afternoon.
In this age group, the game is more of a developmental nature rather than the traditional style. For the most part, the rules are the same with some exceptions, the biggest difference is it is deemed, "coach pitch." The coach pitches to his own players and is not permitted to field any ball as a player occupies the pitcher's mound for that purpose.
I'm not flooding this article with individual stats or accolades, but rather giving credit to an entire team, Montour, for stellar play and team accomplishment. They exemplified the meaning of team players, each and every one of them.
There were cheers, tears and high-fives. Frustration and disappointment at times coupled with smiles and celebration. Lest we forget these are children, learning as they play for nothing more than "the love of the game.''
This weekend the boys from Montour put on a show. They hit the ball as hard as any team of 8-year-olds in the area. Paying attention to detail they listen attentively to coaches' instructions resulting in running the bases very well.
Defense wins ball games and this team turned in some defensive gems on the diamond all weekend that turned the heads of many. They make mistakes as we all do, and they lost some games. It wasn't a deterrent; these boys turned it into motivation.
With a true never-say-die attitude, this group of young Spartans gave their all and marched all the way to the championship game. Awaiting Montour was Bethel Park who seemed poised and ready to claim the title.
This championship game was a back-and-forth affair in which each team gained the lead only to relinquish it time and time again. Complete with rocketing hits, close plays at the bases, and strong defensive plays, this contest was destined to go down to the wire. It did not disappoint.
Trailing heading into the sixth inning, the Spartans went to work. Nothing seemed to bother these young boys, especially the score which was spelling impending doom. Montour exploded in the top of the inning with hit after hit, not only tying the game but regaining the lead in dramatic fashion as they plated runs tallying 10 for the contest. The lead was a comfortable five-run cushion as three outs were all that was needed to be named the tournament's best.
Bethel Park, armed with its share of hitters, had a different idea. They plated a few runs to narrow the margin. The end result was too little too late as Montour held on for a 10-7 victory en route to claiming the championship trophy as the top team for the weekend.
Little League contests require no paid admission ticket, however, if this championship matchup did, the contest would have been worth every dime of the cost.
For this group of Spartans, you are champions one and all. I appreciate being invited to be a part of the ride. Perhaps most importantly, thank you for giving me a moment to sit back, breathe, relax and enjoy a weekend with aspiring baseball players out on the diamond for "the love of the game."