The Zak Zone

Back in the summer of 1997, my brother and the rest of his 11- and 12-year-old All-Star team made the trip to Carbondale for the Little League State Championship Tournament. Tuesday, I made the trip to State College — and the metaphorical trip down memory road — as I was off to cover the 11- and 12-year-old Little League Softball State Championship Tournament.

It was my first trip back to a state tournament of the Little League variety, and as I arrived, memories of those trips out east to watch Marc and his teammates play came flooding back.

I remember the sea of red and white trucking down the interstate — convoy style — with painted-on numbers and names showing proudly which All-Star you were cheering the hardest for.

I remember becoming very good at sleeping sprawled out across the backseat of my grandparents' car, as I often opted to take the long trip out with them to take in the game before turning around and coming home.

This year's trip for the parents was a little more manageable, as the one-and-a-half hour trip to State College isn't quite the four-hour haul we made down I-80 to Carbondale. But nevertheless, there is a huge time commitment that goes into this tournament on behalf of the fans and family who make the trip.

And as this year's Punxsy All-Star season comes to a close — hopefully with a state championship game Saturday — and the Federation League and Legion playoffs are just getting into full swing, I'd like to take the opportunity to give some shout-outs to the folks who I've noticed doing so much to make the whole season possible.

Almost every evening for the past two months, I've been spending time at the ball fields taking in America's pasttime, and while I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be, it hasn't been an easy summer to spend at the ballpark.

Skyrocketing temperatures and much-higher-than-necessary humidity have made it downright miserable weather to take in a ball game. And yet, the first group I've noticed has faithfully found a way to make the trip to the fields work.

• To the parents of the players: I commend you for your unfailing commitment to watching, taking care of, coaching and enjoying your children's love of this game. It's a game I love so much, and every time I make a trip to the complex, I rejoice that it's nearly impossible to find a parking spot — from the Machine Pitch games on Saturdays to the Senior Legion games. Every game I've been to this year has had a reasonable turnout, and the parents are in large part responsible for that.

• To the concession stand, press box and field crew workers: The ironic thing about this category is that many of you who fit into the first category pull double duty in this one, as well. But the work that it takes to put on a ball game, from lining the fields to providing a scorekeeper and announcer to keep those of us in the stands informed, doesn't go unnoticed. And I have learned this summer the ability of a cement block building to hold in heat, as I've sat in the press box covering some games. It is far from easy to stand the high temperatures, but every parent I've shared the space with has been more than pleasant and glad to help.

• To the umpires: Don't think I've forgotten you, blue. While I've been glad to see many of you sporting the powder blues that surely are a bit cooler than the dark blues traditionally associated with the umpiring uniform, I still know that you are on the hot seat no matter what the weather. No matter what call you make, there is one sideline that is entirely in disagreement with it, and despite warm temperatures, you've managed to keep your cool and do a fantastic job throughout this entire season. Best of luck, and wishes for cooler temperatures as we go forward in some of the other playoff series.

• To the directors of the respective leagues that play in Punxsy and Rossiter: Your hard work and dedication — even though many of you have long ago seen your last child work their way through the program you still serve — is certainly one of the great blessings this community has. From Meats Mesoraco at the Legion Field to the cast of characters at the Groundhog Little League that includes Harry Noerr and Gerry Gett, who I've worked closely with, and others I'm sure I don't even realize are on the board as they work their summers away in the press boxes, what you do is greatly appreciated. And while I know many of you give the credit to the parents and volunteers who help make your respective programs possible, I also realize that each and every one of you has given such a great amount to the game. You deserve the bravo before you pass the credit on to the next person.

• To the coaches: Between taking Little League pictures, covering Senior Little League games and working with each of the Legion coaches, I've had the opportunity to at least work on some level with each and every one of you this season, and it certainly has been a pleasure. Your dedication to the players, from the best to the dandelions — and your ability to see the flowers in the weeds — is admirable on all levels. The time you put into your coaching is time well spent with these kids, but it's also a sacrifice and commitment — an unnecessary one — that shows your willingness to go above and beyond.

• And finally, to the players: While I'm sure many of you don't even have an interest in reading my column, I do want to say what a pleasure it is to cover the youngsters who are pouring their best into their efforts on the field each and every time I make the trip to the ball fields. It's what makes it such a pleasure to cover you all: Your dedication to giving it your all, win or lose. It sends me down memory lane, and it reminds me that watching this sport can be fun from this level right on up to the professionals.

After taking my trip down memory lane, I'm thankful for all those who I've mentioned, and to anyone I've forgotten, for continued support as I go about doing my job, trying to serve Punxsy and its athletics at all levels as best I can. To the parents who take the time to thank me for the coverage, I thank you for noticing.

I'll continue to cover each and every one of your teams as best I can, and deep down inside, while I'm not supposed to show it at the ball fields, I will continue to pull for you to succeed in all that you do. Go Punxsy!