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Fans, parents turn out to cheer on young little leaguers at city championships

June 10, 2011 at 1:10 a.m.

Piper Harrison stands from her wheelchair to cheer with other fans for  the  Hall Electric Athletics during their game against the Southeast Big State Wreckers at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex on Friday. She said she injured her leg from cheering with too much enthusiasm at the team's previous game.

Benny Ruiz has been around Victoria's little league a while, and has seen a lot.

For more than 40 years, he's coached and helped the league's young baseball players learn to field grounders and bunt over runners. Both of his sons, now 42 and 36, played in the city's little league.

And he's watched the game change every step of the way.

"Back then, they didn't have select ball," he said. "They just had baseball. And every group is different."

Ruiz was at the Victoria Youth Sports Complex watching a new generation of little leaguers write another chapter, as they played off for the Victoria city championship.

Chance McLeod struck out 12 to help the Northwest league's Hall Electric Athletics reach the city championships, 8-1, over the Southeast league's Big State Wreckers team.

The winners play at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

In the second game, Dylan Smith picked up a two-out hit in the sixth inning to drive in two and lead the the Dick's Food Store team from the Northeast league to a come-from-behind, 3-2 win over the Southwest league's Lauger Construction team.

Ruiz coached in Victoria Little League since 1967, and is showing no signs of slowing down at age 66.

He reminisced about his years involved with the leagues in Victoria, particularly about his favorite moments from those years. Of all the years he coached, Ruiz said he remembers the 1976 team, which won city and state levels and reached the southern regional, well.

"I remember one of my pitchers made pro ball," he said. "He's a pitching coach in Baltimore now. He was a tall left hander with a heck of a work ethic."

That pitcher is Blaine Beatty, who pitched briefly for the New York Mets in the early 1990s. He currently is a pitching coach in the Orioles farm system.

The city championships ignites passion from all of the kids, and especially from the parents who have helped their kids through a season that started in February and ran games and practices a combined three times a week since that time.

Mike Mercer, father of 10-year-old Hank Mercer on the Northwest team, spent much of the event shooting photos of his son and the other players on the team.

At least, that's what he was trying to do.

"I've got some good stuff when my two-year-old wasn't crawling all over me," he said with a laugh.

Hank, who is the youngest on the Northwest team, is used to the camera being on him.

"Every second of every year," he said with a smile about his father's photography.

But in his years since he first got involved, Ruiz has said the leagues have changed at lot.

"The numbers are down," he said. "I can remember in these divisions when we used to have 10 teams each. Now we have no more than five."



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