Slimmed-down Portsmouth Little League kicks off season

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PORTSMOUTH — Their numbers may be down, but their collective voices are louder than ever.

Continuing a time-honored tradition on Opening Day Saturday, the Portsmouth Little League team that screamed the loudest earned free hot dogs at the concession stand. The players were obviously frankfurter fans, as their high-pitched wailing prompted some teammates and parents to cover their ears.

“That was the loudest scream ever. It’s almost like Justin Bieber or One Direction was out here," said Keith Hamilton, outgoing Little League president, who led the festivities at Glen Park. (For the record, Barry's Automotive was judged to be the loudest.)

Although spirits were high Saturday, the league once again saw a drop in the number of players who signed up this year. There are only four teams in the majors division, for example.

“When I was playing there were eight. Last year there were six," said Mr. Hamilton, who blamed the lower numbers on a combination of a declining population of children in town and an increase in the number of sports and other activities available to them.

"There are fewer kids in general and there are more options. There are more kids playing lacrosse and soccer. Lacrosse has definitely taken away some kids from baseball," he said. “There are a ton more choices. Hockey is pretty much year round now, as is AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) baseball and softball. Basketball’s year round.”

Things were simpler when he was young, Mr. Hamilton said.

“When we were kids, it was baseball season, then it was football season, then it was basketball season. Now it’s every season, all year," he said.

Laurie Spaner, an assistant softball coach, said there are fewer players signed up for that sport as well.

“I think it’s because everything’s all year, and lacrosse is new and huge," she said, adding that the middle school is now offering sports options that didn't previously exist.

Three first pitches — at once

Although there are fewer players overall, there was a surplus of pitchers on the mound to deliver the traditional first pitch — or in this case, pitches.

Ms. Spaner's children Nicky and Katie and their cousin, Kayla Parsons, each grabbed a ball and simultaneously threw to two catchers — Kayla's brothers, Adam and Justin Parsons.

They're all the grandchildren of the late Dr. Robert Davidson, a longtime softball coach who died in 2005. The softball field at Glen Park was dedicated to Dr. Davidson after his death, and the Dr. Robert A. Davidson Charitable Fund is a league sponsor.

"I played in the very beginning of this league," said Ms. Spaner. "He was part of the Lion’s Club, which built this field. We didn’t have a girls' field. We played on the lawn at Hathaway and at Turnpike. And then he coached all of us (his daughters)."

The last couple of years have been challenging ones for the Davidson family, as the middle daughter, Lisa Parsons, battled breast cancer. A friend of Mr. Hamilton's for over 30 years, Ms. Parsons has since had chemotherapy and surgery and is "doing OK now," she said as she watched her three children from the sidelines Saturday.

"The family is blessed," said her mom, Rosemary Davidson.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.