Crockett Merchants Little League began its 63rd season Saturday by paying tribute to three longtime supporters who played vital roles in making it the oldest continuously operated Little League in Texas.
After the traditional parade through downtown Crockett, the teams and supporters gathered at the Major League Field for the opening day festivities.
Master of ceremony Derek Martin, who presented a brief summary of each honoree's contributions to CMLL, said, "All three were very integral in what this Little League has meant to Houston County, to Texas and to folks in and around East Texas. Their contributions spanned several decades."
Kandias Choate, CMLL secretary, presented old team photos and appreciation plaques to the families of each honoree-- Bob Overstreet Jr., Bobby Rains and Buddy Robinson.
Bob Overstreet Jr., known as "Little Bob", passed away in October 2015. He played on the Callaway Cubs, played Minor League in the 1950s, coached Senior League baseball, and then coached the Cubs for many years. He coached Little League for almost 20 years and is described as an ardent supporter of Crockett Merchants Little League and Bulldog sports. "Bob was one of the integral pieces of Crockett Merchants Little League throughout the years," said Martin.
Bobby Rains, who passed away in November 2014, coached during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. He coached the Minor League in the 60s and later coached the Dairy Queen Yankees for 20 years during the 70s and 80s. "Bobby and all those who volunteer their time, provide dedication, mentorship and leadership for these young men and women. What they learned by dealing with these coaches, parents and volunteers has carried them on throughout the remainder of their lives. When they look back they hold these coaches and mentors in fond memory," said Martin.
Lynn Gunnels, Bobby's sister, shared some of her memories of CMLL from the 1970s and 80s.
Buddy Robinson, who passed away in February 2016, coached the Sullivan Motor Tigers from 1960-62, then transitioned into the Crockett Senior Teenage League from 1966-67, which he and Morris "Boog" Easterly organized and coached. Robinson later coached the Knox Motor Indians from 1971-72.
The Senior League was organized by Buddy and Stanley Mims from 1973-74 to provide an opportunity for older players to participate after leaving Little League. He also umpired many games at Little League fields.
Buddy and his wife Linda were married June 1 with the stipulation for the honeymoon that they be able to volunteer in the concession stands at the Little League field. "That's just a testament to his dedication for this Little League," said Martin.
Linda Robinson recalled some of her fond memories during their years of service.
Next in the lineup was recognition of the 1996 Crockett Bulldogs State Championship Baseball Team, which compiled a 27-6 record en route to the crown.
Amid cheers and applause, nine of the 1996 Bulldogs returned to the field where they began their baseball careers.
Will Pounds recalled hitting his first home run at the Major League Field, but noted that he struck out in the next inning.
Other team members introduced were Adam Farek, Marshall Stephens, Tyrone Colter, Reggi McKnight, Jamie Parker, Will Driskell, Kendall Rhodes and John Pugh, along with head coach Tommy Parker and assistant coach Mark Parker.
"Crockett Merchants Little League is a vital part of baseball here. Crockett has always been a baseball town and it always will be a baseball town," said Tommy Parker. "I just congratulate the parents, the coaches, the teams and everybody that participates. You've got to put in a lot of work raising kids. There's not a better way to be with your children than playing baseball. Every one of the players on this team came through Crockett Little League. There were a lot of good teams—they all didn't win state championships-- but there were a lot of really good players, some who played college baseball and a lot who had opportunities to play professional baseball. It's a testament to people like the three that were honored today. They put in the time and effort to get this program going a long time ago, and I'm so happy that it's still going."
Three members of the 1996 team—Kendall Rhodes, Tyrone Colter and Will Pounds—had the honor of throwing the opening pitches to the catchers for the Cubs, Astros and Dodgers.
Concluding the program, CMLL President Blue Choate led the players in reciting the Little League player's pledge. The parents followed by reciting their pledge.
Choate then called members of the 2016 board to the infield for recognition.
In closing, Choate challenged the CMLL participants with, "Let's make this a great season!"
Before the teams hit the diamond for their season openers, CMLL held its annual cake auction and raised approximately $10,000 which will be used for facility improvements next year.