If anyone knows how to start a sports season with a bang, it’s Plant City Little League.
The league’s annual spring Opening Day ceremony took place the morning of Feb. 23 at Mike Sansone Park and pulled out all the stops as usual.
“This has to be one of the finest traditions we have in our city because it represents building strong families in our community,” Mayor Rick Lott said.
Major League Baseball veteran Ryan Raburn, who played high school ball at Durant in the late 1990s, was the featured speaker at this year’s event. Unlike the typical speeches delivered by past guests, such as MLB umpires Mark Wegner and “Cowboy” Joe West in recent years,” Raburn gave some advice and also fielded questions about his career from PCLL baseball and softball players.
“I think the best thing for all the guys here is to pull for each other and want everybody to be better,” Raburn told the players.
Dennis Lee, a longtime fixture at the Florida Strawberry Festival, sang the national anthem and later performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with Raymond, the mascot of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Vice President and master of ceremonies Rhett Rollyson gave a special shout-out to Parker Messick and Cade Shissler, a pair of PCLL alumni who now play for Plant City High School. In November 2018, Messick signed with Florida State University and Shissler signed with Stetson University.
As always, the newly-crowned Florida Strawberry Festival queen got to throw a ceremonial first pitch. This year it was Queen Kendall Gaudens throwing a strike to Mallory Ness. Three other first pitches followed: Raymond threw to Logan Teeden, Maddux Ray threw to his brother Brody Ray and Raburn threw to Reed Goodson.
Q&A with Ryan Raburn
Harper Mueller: “Who is the toughest pitcher you’ve ever faced?”
Ryan Raburn: “Chris Sale, from the Boston Red Sox. He’s pretty good.”
Jake Carbaugh: “Who are some of your best teammates?”
Raburn: “The Cleveland Indians.”
Rylan Rollyson: “Who’s the greatest player you played with and the greatest player you played against?”
Raburn: “Miguel Cabrera … and Mike Trout.”
Colt Connell: “What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?”
Raburn: “Give it everything you’ve got, enjoy the game and remember life’s too short to take it too seriously.”
Cooper Cowen: “What’s your best baseball memory?”
Raburn: “Pitching in a game (a perfect inning against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 8, 2013)… I had never done it professionally before.”