PORTSMOUTH — Chris Patsos joked that the boaters in the Sakonnet River had better watch out for all the baseballs that were being blasted out of field No. 1 at Glen Park.
At the annual Challenger Jamboree Sunday, no fewer than four home runs were sent over the fence in one game alone, including two by Ryan Miranda and another by Seth Dame. Both play for the Portsmouth Challenger league, which once again hosted the seventh annual Rhode Island District 11 Challenger Jamboree.
The Challenger Division of Little League gives boys and girls with physical or mental challenges, ages 5 to 18, the opportunity to participate in an organized game of baseball.
The annual Jamboree invites teams from outside the area to join together for a day of baseball, family, fun and food. Everything from the food, face-painting, moon walk, touch-a-truck, dunk tank, visit from various mascots and more was offered up free of charge so that families could enjoy a stress-free day of watching their children have fun on the field.
Sunday’s Jamboree was bigger and better than ever, with close to 300 players.
“This year we have 20 teams from 15 different communities,” said organizer Bob Dyl, who founded the Portsmouth-based league that welcomes players from all over the East Bay. “We have well over 45 cities and towns represented from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.”
Mr. Patsos, a Challenger league official who announced several games, said it was the best Jamboree yet. “Attendance was great, everybody was so excited and had a great time,” he said. “We had like five or six new teams down here, which was nice to see, and they all had a great experience. Everything went smoothly and all the help and volunteers — it went like clockwork.”
This year’s special guest was Sam Ranck, director of the Challenger Division for Little League International, who threw out the first pitch.
“I think Jamborees are an important opportunity to get out in the field and meet the volunteers who make the program work, and as I go from event to event I’m able to observe some good ideas that we can share with everybody,” said Mr. Ranck, who said there are about 25 such Jamborees throughout the country.
“Our long-term goal is to get at least one in every state,” he said, adding that he also would like to see a Jamboree in every province of Canada and more worldwide. “We have a Middle East Jamboree right now. I’d like to get one in each country, eventually. We’re in 10 countries right now,” he said.
As for the local effort, Mr. Ranck liked what he saw.
“Bob (Dyl) does a great job. He’s a great volunteer. It’s like a second full-time job and I admire anybody who has the dedication and time to put into it,” he said.
The day began with great fanfare, as bagpipers from the Providence Police Pipes and Drums led the march of Challenger players onto the field. The day also featured visits from mascots from the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Newport Gulls.
Jacob Kapstein of Tiverton, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers last year, flew up from Florida to help out, picking raffle tickets and helping players on the field. Jacob, his brother Zach and their father, Dan Kapstein, are longtime volunteers for the Challenger league. Dan Kapstein was pitching to players Sunday, but Zach, who was drafted by the Red Sox in 2010, wasn’t able to make it this year.
After several items — including balls signed by members of the Red Sox — were given away to players in a free raffle, Ryan Costa of the Portsmouth Challenger division yelled “Play ball!” and the games began.
Free food for hundreds
Since an estimated 850 people — some say over 1,000 — attended the Jamboree, plenty of donated food was on hand to feed them.
The day’s major sponsors were CVS, Newport Fed and Stop & Shop, and local businesses donated food in the way of 750 burgers and hot dogs with rolls, 55 pizzas, 700 freeze pops, 40 cases of water, 40 to 50 cases of soda and more.
A mini-crisis developed early on when it was discovered that, unlike in previous years, the donated cheese slices were individually wrapped. Several volunteers were given the task of unwrapping each slice before delivering them to the grill.
As for all that home run power on field No. 1, Mr. Patsos didn’t have a ready answer.
“The wind was blowing out a little bit, but I didn’t think it was blowing out that much,” he joked.