Warmth brings baseball to Christmas Eve – BurlingtonFreePress.com
By 9:30 a.m.Â on the day before Christmas, childrenÂ began to arrive in Burlington’sÂ Callahan ParkÂ toting bats and gloves that had been stowed away and forgotten for the winter. Parents raked the batter’s boxes on the dormant ballfield and cleanedÂ home plate.
Two hours before dawn, the temperature in Burlington surpassed the previous Dec. 24 record of 51 degrees.Â The forecast called for a high in the low 60s, more than 30 degrees above normal â and even that forecast came up short. At 1:20 p.m., Burlington hit 68 degrees, making Christmas Eve 2015 the city’s hottest December day on record, the National Weather Service said.
A fine day for baseball.
Christmas Eve has long played host to annualÂ sporting events played among friends and family, such as pond hockey orÂ a football game in the snow.Â But rarelyÂ baseball, a sport Vermont ballplayers are lucky to play through mid-October.
Yet here they were, the boys and girls of summer on the third day of winter, lacing upÂ their cleats for a morning on the diamond.
Tom Simon, a Burlington-American Little League board member, said he wanted to put on a game as soon as he saw Thursday’s forecast.
“I immediately thought, ‘This is baseball weather,'” Simon said.
With two days’ notice, Simon called other Little League parents to spread the word. He hoped for a small group of players to show. Enough came to field two teams, plus substitutions.
“This is the biggest turnout we’ve had since Opening Day last year,” Simon said.
Callahan Park is usually covered in snow this time of year. But on Thursday the ballfield was verdant and soggy. Simon remarkedÂ the diamond was in better shape than it is in April.
The players, understandably, looked outÂ of practice. But the mostlyÂ 8- to 13-year-olds played with grit and determination. They dove for fly balls. They slid â some in shorts â into bases. They made plays.
Catcher Sam Mackenzie gunned down a runner trying to steal second. Nima Lama doubled and scored the first run of the game. First baseman Jett Arp robbed a hitter of a single with an over-the-shoulder catch. Louis Berlind hit a stand-up triple in the right-field corner that he nearly stretched into a home run.
Even Keldon Fanslow, the tiny 6-year-old with the smallest strike zone in the live ball era, managed to get on base.
Simon pitched the first three innings and inadvertently picked up a pair of strikeouts. Parent Patrick Halladay â no known relation to two-time Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay â came out of the bullpen in the fourth.
Halladay joked that he threw from a windup to keep batters, including his daughter, off balance.
“I did throw a 12-6 curveball in there,” Halladay said. “That’s my strikeout pitch.”
Christmas is the nadirÂ of the baseball calendar â two months after the World Series and another two before teams return for spring training. Yet for two dozen Little Leaguers onÂ a balmy December morning, ThursdayÂ looked like the heart of the season.
They played at least seven innings. The final score was anyone’s guess.
The players said they never expected to play ball at Christmastime. They had planned to ski, sled and enjoy the snow. Even at their young ages, the players understood the rarity of a ballgame in late December. The kids wanted to be a part of the experience.
Louis Berlind, the 12-year-old who smacked the triple, summed up the draw succinctly.
“I just like to play baseball,” he said.
Contact Zach Despart at 651-4826 or email@example.com. FollowÂ him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZachDespart.