Gastineau Channel Little League’s latest season — its 70th — started with multiple nods to a past that predates Alaska’s statehood.
The league, which started in 1952 and lost one season to the COVID-19 pandemic, held opening day festivities Saturday at Juneau’s Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park in an event that included ceremonial pitches from people with deep connections to league and local history.
On the baseball side, that meant 16-year-old Jacob Katasse throwing to 12-year-old Parker Katasse. The Katasses are great-grandsons of Juneau Police Officer Richard Adair, who along with Officer Jimmy Kennedy was killed on April 17, 1979, while responding to a report of shots fired in a downtown neighborhood. Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park is named for the two slain officers.
Gregg Parker, grandfather of the two boys and former son-in-law of Adair, said he was “very emotional” watching the first pitch.
“I’ve been waiting like 44 years to watch the boys from Rick play baseball on this field,” Parker said, noting Adair was a longtime baseball coach in Juneau.
Jacob Katasse said it was special to be part of the ceremony and Parker Katasse said he was nervous he would drop the ball.
The fears were unfounded and Parker Katasse handled a fastball with no signs of nerves.
The softball season was ceremonially started by simultaneous pitches from Mandy Massey and Gloria Bixby. The mother-daughter duo have a direct line to the inception of GCLL softball in addition to athletic accolades of their own.
Massey’s father, David, was integral to the formation of the program in 1986, which helped lay a foundation that allowed Massey to be part of the first softball team at what was then called Juneau-Douglas High School. Bixby, a lifelong GCLL participant, is a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé where she is a member of the currently undefeated softball team.
Bixby said an early morning wake-up and some practice throws were part of preparation for the season-starting pitches.
Massey called the first-pitch experience “unforgettable” and praised GCLL’s development over the years.
“It’s neat to see the program advance over the years,” Massey said, adding the caliber of players in the league is impressive.
Geoff Kirsch, information officer for GCLL, said the number of players is impressive, too.
This year, 447 youths across 40 teams and over 100 volunteers are part of the league, which Kirsch said is a net gain from last year. That meant team introductions ended with hundreds of youths milling about the field during opening day ceremonies.
That robust registration somewhat bucks recent local and national trends of dwindling Little League participation, Kirsch said. It also puts GCLL participation in the ballpark of its pre-pandemic numbers.
However, Kirsch said GCLL is still short in one critical area — umpires.
He said anyone interested in being an umpire can find more information online at juneaulittleleague.com/Default.aspx?tabid=2749629 or reach out to umpire-in-chief Matt McGuan at firstname.lastname@example.org.