AND THE CROWD GOES WILD: Families and friends gather to cheer on tournament players

The lights come on at Mount Joy's Kunkle Field, revealing a field of dreams. (New Era Photo by Marty Heisey.)

The lights come on at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field, revealing a field of dreams. (New Era Photo by Marty Heisey.)

By Mary Beth Budnyk
New Era Staff Writer

It’s a family reunion on a grand scale at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field. Neighbors in straw hats, baseball caps and sun visors have come out for a low-key Monday evening of watching their sons, grandsons and friends vie for the New Era Tournament title.

The tournament, which opened this week, features three weeks of contests among division-champion youth baseball teams from around Lancaster County.

The last slanting rays of the sun flit across the faces of spectators reclining in brightly colored lawn chairs under shady pine trees along the hillside. Kids and kids at heart juggle fries and sodas as they weave quickly yet cautiously through the crowds and back to their seats in the stands.

Here, everybody knows everybody else, and everyone stops to talk. There’s no trading insults, no overinflated egos, no bad-mouthing the ref. Moms and dads don’t just root for the home team. They yell “C’mon, J.J.!” and “Good eye, Joe!” hardly noticing which color the guy who made the last great play is wearing.

Cheryl Smithson of Lititz brought her dog Charlie to help cheer on her son Ryan. When Ryan, 13, rounds third and speeds toward the safety of home plate, Smithson can’t help but jump out of her front-row seat, shouting and pumping her fists.

Ryan’s Warwick White Sox may be down 8-1, but Smithson hasn’t given up hope.

“I wish we were winning … ” she says, her lips curving downward in a slightly wistful expression. “But it’s still enjoyable because he has a lot of friends on the other team too.”

On the hillside overlooking the field, Jill Groff and Jere and Esta Denlinger, all of Willow Street, are waiting anxiously for Jill’s son and Jere and Esta’s grandson, Nathanial, 14, to take the field in his third New Era Tournament.

“They won his first year, and we’re hoping they do it again,” Groff says, smiling and shielding her eyes from the still-bright sun.

She glances over at the stands, where Ryan and his Lampeter Pioneer teammates are waiting, chattering somewhat nervously as they watch the action, leaning forward with their elbows balanced on their knees.

If they don’t win, it’s a shame, but …

“It’s very relaxing anyway,” Esta says.