By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – On a cloudy and cool Montana afternoon at the Big Sky Community Park ball fields, former professional baseball pitcher – and now coach of Big Sky’s Cal Ripken Little League Pirates – Matt Morris nearly bounced the season’s opening pitch to catcher John Romney.

But he didn’t, and the May 26 pitch signified the first for the area little league season, now in its ninth year.

“We have over 40 kids in the league now,” said Romney, who shares league commissioner duties with Scott Hammond. “Participation has definitely grown – we have real baseball fields and real uniforms.”

The players, ages 5-10, are divided into seven teams in two divisions with kindergarten and first graders in the “minors” and second through fifth graders designated as the “majors.”

Before the opening pitch,Little_League_3 Ophir Middle School seventh grader Emma Flach belted a moving version of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” as each team lined the first and third baselines.

While the league focuses on teaching kids fundamentals of America’s pastime, Romney says keeping the game moving with the league’s new pitching machine and maximizing participation take a backseat to the essence of baseball.

“The most important thing for us is that the kids have fun,” he said.

The Big Sky Cal Ripken Little League holds games each Tuesday and Thursday right after school lets out from now until June 11.