Preparing and grooming the Little League baseball and softball fields is a springtime ritual here in Sanford.

On a recent cool April morning at Little League Park on Roberts Street, bands of amateur groundskeepers fanned out to fields throughout the city: Carpentier Park, Witham Street Fields, Carl J. Lamb, Blouin Field. Parents, coaches and players, rakes and leaf blowers in hand, removed old grass, picked up trash, cleaned dugouts and trimmed fence lines.

Soon these fields will feature youngsters decked out in flashing reds, yellows and royal blues. They’ll sport names like “Sanford Car Wash,” “Springvale Publick House” and the “Fred Sox.” Some 450 youngsters will play in the leagues’ divisions this year, from 4-year-olds hitting off a tee to 12-year-olds in their final year of Little League. Many of these players will remember the names of the teams they played on for the rest of their lives.

MORE THAN A CRISIS

Lately, if you’ve read about my city in this newspaper, you’ve probably heard how hard we have been hit by the opioid epidemic that is sweeping through every town in the state.

A century of tradition brings a city together every spring. Sanford’s community spirit and volunteerism is a story that needs to be told. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

I get it. This is a crisis that demands our attention. But in their attempt to tell that story, the media miss a story about the proud and hard-working folks who are the backbone of this community. You can see this spirit during baseball and softball season in Sanford as a continuation of a rich history that stretches back well over 100 years.

Across the street from Little League Park, storied Goodall Park has seen its share of talent, including Sanford’s own Freddie Parent. Parent was the starting shortstop of the 1903 Boston Americans. This team captured the American League Pennant and went on to win the first ever World Series against the vaunted Pittsburgh Pirates. They say Parent outplayed the great Honus Wagner, and the statistics show that to be true. Parent batted .290 in the series to Wagner’s .222 Wagner may have been the greatest player of that generation, but not in the 1903 World Series.

I like to think of Parent as a deadball era version of Dustin Pedroia. Gritty. Tough. Resilient. Just like Sanford. He never wore a batting helmet in his 1,327 professional games (no players did then) and played some 12 seasons in the early days of major league baseball when shortstops were targets for any runner sliding into second base.

And the stories didn’t end in the early 1900s. There was Babe Ruth and his shot over the right field fence at Goodall Park in 1919 while on a post season barnstorming tour. Or softball pitcher Jen Jones winning the Maine Gatorade player of the year in 2015 as part of Coach Mike Bailey’s Sanford High softball team.

And who could forget last August when Shaine Hughes, a lefty infielder from Monmouth University, launched a three-run walk-off homer into the night to send the Sanford Mainers to the NECBL Championship Series in front of almost 700 fans at Goodall Park.

The Mainers are part of the New England College Baseball League and play in Goodall Park. Each summer, college students with an eye toward the major leagues come to Sanford, live with local folks and play at Goodall Park.

Some Mainers have moved on to play professionally, and others have made it to the major league. Adam Duvall was a National League All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds last year. Andy Sonnastine won 13 games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2008. Jason Motte was a catcher for the Mainers and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was promptly converted into a reliever, eventually made the big league club and has had quite a career. He pitched the final out for the Cardinals as they won the 2011 World Series.

Good stuff.

STARS OFF THE FIELD, TOO

And while there are stars on the fields of Sanford, more importantly, there are those who work behind the scenes. Take Linda Bowles, for example. For 30 years she has served as a Little League coach, board member and the District 4 administrator.

Thirty years. How lucky are we to have her in our community?

And that’s the case throughout Sanford. Individuals and groups of people who volunteer quietly behind the scenes. It’s not just Little League. It’s in soccer, football, baseball and lacrosse.

And not just sports – there are volunteers in the Boy and Girl Scouts, food pantries, church groups, community fundraisers and support groups. In PTAs, planning boards and social groups. There are people who leave random gifts in public places at Easter and Christmas! It’s more than I can list here, but it’s substantial and it’s growing.

The Little League season just got underway in Sanford. Come on down, folks. You might like what you see.