Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Gastineau Channel Little League equipment manager and Orioles coach as Josh Carte. His name is Jake Carte. The article has been updated to reflect the change.
The Gastineau Channel Little League ushered in its 67th season on Saturday morning under sunny skies and pleasant April temperatures.
Hundreds of baseball and softball youth stormed Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park as their respective teams and sponsors were introduced one by one. The Thunder Mountain High School baseball and softball teams greeted the ball players — sometimes younger siblings — as they rounded the basepaths and gathered in the infield for the pledge of allegiance, national anthem and ceremonial first pitches by Paul Jones and Makayla Harp.
“We’re certainly very grateful of the sunshine because there’s been many opening day ceremonies that we’ve been standing out here in raincoats,” said GCLL equipment manager and Orioles coach Jake Carte, who emceed the event.
The ceremony doubled as the unveiling of a shiny new blue and white scoreboard in centerfield. GCLL Vice President Casey Walker said the Midnight Suns Baseball Club, City and Borough of Juneau and high school booster clubs purchased the scoreboard in an ongoing effort to modernize the baseball facility.
“Our end game with this whole thing is to get turf fields, that’s where we want to end up,” Walker said. “It’s going to take a bunch more fundraising and a bunch more efforts but because both high schools play here, this is the main jam for baseball in Juneau.”
This year, there are just over 30 teams spread out across the T-ball, baseball and softball leagues. The league expanded its baseball league to include five divisions instead of four. The Farm league is now broken up into “A” and “AA” classifications. The former will use a pitching machine, while the latter will rotate between player and coach pitching.
“Typically they didn’t play-pitch until they were 9, and now we’re able to do that at 7,” Walker said. “We’re just progressing them sooner.”
Jones, 69, and Harp, 21, have been GCLL regulars for many years. Jones said he didn’t feel like he deserved the recognition of getting to throw out the first pitch.
“I felt like there was more deserving people than me,” said Jones, known goes by “PJ.”
Jones, who’s entering his 24th season coaching Little League, said he’s coached just about all of this year’s JDHS and TMHS players. Jones has coached a total of seven All-Star Teams, six of which won the District 2 championship and two of which won the state championship.
“To be a good coach in this league, you’re not only a coach,” Jones said. “You’re a father, a mother, a counselor, in some cases a priest. You throw baseballs in between those slots. I believe in prayer. We not only pray to have a good game, we pray that nobody gets hurt during the game.”
Harp played in every softball division growing up in Juneau, and after graduating from Thunder Mountain two years ago as a state champion, pitched at Independence Community College.
“It’s kind of come full circle now,” Harp said of throwing the ceremonial first pitch.
The GCLL season lasts for approximately two months, with games taking place at least once every week. All-Star teams are selected after the season ends.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.