When Mike Gillespie spoke to the young athletes of Newport Beach Little League he could've used the time to talk more about his UC Irvine baseball team or even his grand coaching career while leading USC and the Anteaters.
But he wanted to stress an important message that could be meant for all the players who celebrated a festive Opening Day, Saturday, for Little League and Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. players in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
"Right now it is important for you to have fun," said Gillespie, a Coaches Assn. Hall of Fame inductee who recently reached the 1,000-win mark, a feat that only 14 other coaches have accomplished while at four-year institutions. "Even when there is adversity or when things don't seem to be going right for you in a game, you still need to have fun."
The message could also apply to the parents and how they approach the game with their children, Newport Beach Little League President Gary Borquez said.
Having fun was certainly a characteristic for the late Julian Dunn, who died of brain cancer at age 9 last year. He was remembered at the ceremony. The NBLL players will wear a patch this season in his honor. It'll read: JD 27. His initials, and number. The patch is red, which was Julian's favorite color.
His coach, Chris Elliott, shared a story of Julian's passion for the game when his Challenger Division team was practicing for a special showcase at Angel Stadium.
Julian had grown weak of practicing and he asked the coach to follow him so he could sit down on a bench. Elliott thought the boy had had enough, but Julian asked to work on fielding ground balls while he sat.
Julian's mother, Andrea, and father, Rich, a former Daily Pilot sports editor, attended the ceremony. Their 13-year-old son, Nolan, plays for an NBLL Juniors Division team.
Borquez said the initial plan had been for the patch to be worn by solely the Challenger Division players, but the support grew and more people wanted the patch for all the players.
That sense of unity showed throughout NBLL's Opening Day at Bonita Canyon Sports Park. The kids ran from posing for team pictures to jumping in bounce houses and playing video games in a bus for gamers.
Just outside the bus, 8-year-old Daegan Pasqueletto took his swings on a batting simulator game. He hit a home run.
He said he hopes to have plenty of those during the season.
"He told us to have fun and that's what I think we should do," Daegan said of Gillespie's message. "I love to play baseball and just use all my energy."
Daegan said he also wanted to use his energy for all the activities and games set up at the park.
There was revelry from children and their families at the NHBA Opening Day at Mariners Park, where the baseball players also took team pictures. Food trucks parked nearby amid a park packed with eager young athletes and their greatest fans.
"It's fun when we have 600 kids and you add in the siblings and parents," said Jim Binford, the NHBA President. "We'll have over 1,000 people here. This has been a great community in supporting youth sports and baseball. It's fantastic. You see a lot of smiles and you're seeing a lot of people you haven't seen in a while, and shaking a lot of hands and getting a lot of hugs. It's been really nice."
At Costa Mesa American Little League's Opening Day, an increase of participation numbers was noticeable from the previous year, said Todd Cowley, the league's president.
Cowley said he didn't know if there had ever been such an increase, nearly 20%.
"It might just be a baby boom in the area," he said. "We have 18 teams of players below 7 years old and they are full. We couldn't add another person. We were shooting for 250, but we got to 300, which is absolutely great."
Cowley added that volunteers of the league had went door to door to spread the news about joining CMALL.