Nearly 600 young baseball players, all dressed in different Arizona Diamondbacks jerseys, lined the Ahwatukee Park diamond Saturday morning as Luis Gonzalez delivered a preseason pep talk.
Gonzalez delivered the clinching hit the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series triumph, the state’s only major professional sports championship.
“On that 2001 day, in Game 7 of the World Series, I thought about a day like this because this is where it all starts,” Gonzalez told the Ahwatukee Little Leaguers and hundreds of parents. “You’re going to learn a lot of valuable lessons out here. You’re going to learn about teamwork, dedication, sportsmanship. You’re going to learn about winning and losing. Not every day are you going to get hits.”
Forty-seven teams across six divisions, with players ranging from 4 to 14 years old cheered as Gonzalez took the mic during the league’s opening day celebration.
“Go out and play hard every single day,” Gonzalez said. “We’re looking for young, exciting players just like you guys to one day wear the Arizona Diamondbacks jersey. We love that you’re wearing it now but we want you to wear the authentic ones when you get older.”
In the afternoon, two Ahwatukee Little League teams played a game with a handful of major leaguers at the Diamondbacks’ Salt River Fields spring training complex in Scottsdale.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius, pitcher Brad Ziegler and outfielders A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross played alongside the kids in different roles as part of the Diamondbacks Give Back Jersey Program.
“It’s just fun to see all the smiles on their faces,” Ross said. “They’re competing, hitting the ball really good, throwing the ball really well.”
The Give Back Jersey Program launched earlier this month to provide high-quality uniforms and caps to more than 22,000 youth baseball and softball players and their coaches throughout the state. The Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation donated more than $500,000 to the program.
More than 30 leagues took advantage of the program, with some leagues registering more than 1,500 kids. There are more than 75 jersey color combinations.
John Terry, Ahwatukee Little League president, said his league lowered sign-up fees and improved some of its fields with the cost savings from the donated jerseys.
“We do what we can to keep fees reasonable every year and we don’t like to raise fees,” Terry said. “This year we had over 100 additional players sign up from last year. ... We’re almost double where we were four seasons ago, which is amazing. It’s great to see.”
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