Look no further than zip code 91030 for a real sense of community.
It belongs to South Pasadena, and the only way to play Little League inside its boundaries is to live in town.
The league is homegrown and Alberto Ocon, SPLL’s second-year president, likes that way. “We’re lucky our boundaries are 91030,” he said. “It’s our Little League, our community. Nobody else can come in and play. It’s based on families, and that’s why it’s so special.”
Its unique appeal has been that way since 1952 when it all started. Other youth leagues don’t have that same sense of community, insists Ocon, noting that travel teams comprise of players from cities near and far. “That’s great for them,” he said. “You might have a kid from around here and another from, let’s say, the South Bay. You’ll find great kids and play them. But here, you have to play with what you have, to be a resident, and that’s the wonderful thing about our Little League.”
Having a family atmosphere was something Ocon and his fellow board members set out to accomplish when they decided to revamp Little League’s opening season festivities. The task began a year ago when they changed it from a Saturday morning get-together that lacked numbers to a Friday night extravaganza. Lengthy ceremonial speeches have been replaced with a festive, upbeat three-hour attraction, injected with a major fun element to include activities for kids, an inflatable bouncer, food and baseball games. This year, two were featured – an American and Major League contest played simultaneously across from each other in the park.
Pomp and circumstance wasn’t completely abandoned during a brief ceremony as two of the league’s softball players – Emma Becerra and Taelyn Adams – led the Pledge of Allegiance, a special team was honored, a longtime contributor was memorialized, a key city employee was recognized, and dignitaries, including State Senator Anthony Portantino and South Pasadena City Council member Robert Joe, were introduced.
Little League’s Minor softball District 18 All-Star, Section 1 champions and the state runner-up team was presented trophies. In addition, a special tribute was made to former SPLL Board member Frank Burke, who supported the league mightily over the years and has a field in the park named after him.
In addition, City Park Supervisor David Niznik was acknowledged for improvements made at Clarich, Nelson and Burke fields in Arroyo Park, plus the softball field at Orange Grove Park on Mission Street in the city.
A real crowd pleaser, donated free hot dogs, roasted corn on the cob and beverages were given out free to everyone entering the gates to this year’s event.
Ocon reminded those on hand that opening night was all about pulling the community together. “It’s fun and friendly,” he stressed. “We have fantastic sponsors who helped us with the food and entertainment. It brings everybody out to have a good time.”
The league is in solid shape, insisted its president, as 739 players are signed up to play on roughly 50 softball and baseball teams this spring, from T-Ball to the Senior Division.
“Little League is fun,” said an enthusiastic Ocon, looking around at families enjoying the opening night festivities. “Everyone is having a great time. When I was a kid, Little League was always exciting for me. Now that I have an opportunity to help out here as president, this is great. I want all these kids to have a great season.”