Little League season opens without a splash

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Though they’re dodging raindrops on the way from second to third, Malibu Little Leaguers are nothing less than thrilled that the 2000 season is now under way.

While soggy turf and an overall shortage of playing fields stunted last year’s season, the league hit a veritable first-inning home run with opening ceremonies and nine full ball games Saturday at Bluffs Park.

Highlighted by a keynote speech from former Boston Red Sox all-star Reggie Smith, opening ceremonies attracted more than 700 players, parents and coaches on a brisk but mercifully dry morning, according to League Commissioner Rick Holben.

“It was just a wonderful event because it brings a lot of people in the community together,” said Holben. “That’s hard to do in a community 27 miles long.”

“Opening day was absolutely great,” said Ed Bell, coach of the Reds in the major league division. “Reggie Smith was a great, professional addition. Kids can carry his comments: It’s not a win or lose game, it’s a game.

“You look at the Little League motto: courage, character, loyalty. Above and beyond baseball, those things should be taught,” added Bell.

This year, there will be many more games in which to absorb the league’s lessons. Though, according to Holben, there is “still a drastic field shortage [and] 40 percent of the games will be played on a converted soccer field,” the early start date may ensure that all 17 of the league’s teams will be able to play their entire 20-game, regular-season schedules.

“I’m very happy about the field situation,” said Bell. “It’s March, and we’re already off to a success.” He also praised the efforts of last year’s board to prevent the facilities mishaps of last season. According to Holben, the board spent more than $15,000 to improve the infields and drainage.

“Last year was so labor-intensive,” said Holben. “Everyone’s excited for a full season.”

The league has a full roster of more than 250 kids. There are managers for all teams, but they “could still use a couple of coaches,” according to Holben.