On opening night of the 51s’ season, I saw a guy wearing a Bad News Bears jersey at Cashman Field. On the back, where the name of the sponsor usually goes, it said “Chico’s Bail Bonds.”
It was the second-coolest baseball jersey I saw this week.
The first-coolest, albeit in a different way, were the uniform shirts the Green Valley Little League Major Nationals wore at Arroyo Grande Sports Complex for their game against the Major Cubs on Tuesday.
On the front it said “Nationals.”
On the back, where the name of the sponsor usually goes, it said “IN HONOR OF HAILEE JOY LAMBERTH.”
Hailee Joy Lamberth was the teenager who committed suicide in December after being bullied.
Hailee attended Thurman White Middle School in Henderson. She was schoolmates with most of the Major Nationals.
She was 13 when she took her own life.
It was a special way, a heartfelt way, to remember this young girl and at the same time, raise awareness about bullying and harassment and other aggressive social behavior that can lead to tragic outcomes.
It was a wonderful idea the grown-ups had is what I thought.
Only it wasn’t the grown-ups who came up with the idea. It was one of the players. Cristian Dugger, No. 22. He’s the catcher for the Major Nationals, one of those who went to school with Hailee Lamberth.
He remembers that day in December when the school kids were told what had happened to Hailee. He remembers feeling sad, and not saying much the rest of the day.
But pretty soon it would be baseball season.
Travis Dugger, Cristian’s dad and the Major Nationals’ assistant coach, was sitting on the couch watching TV one night in February, after tryouts, when Cristian came into the room and asked about doing something for Hailee Lamberth.
Instead of getting a tax firm to sponsor the team this year, or an ice cream shop or a service station or even a bail bond service, perhaps the players could just raise the money on their own, and put Hailee’s name on their backs, Cristian Dugger said to his dad.
That way a lot of people would continue remembering her. And some might ask who she was, and how she had died.
So that’s what the players did. They went out and raised the money themselves.
Some of the grown-ups helped out by writing checks, and league president Dan Kazmierski helped get the word out, and Jaxon Nickels’ father Jay talked a local banner company into getting involved.
And so now not only is Hailee Joy Lamberth’s name on the backs of the Major Nationals jerseys, her picture is on the outfield fences at Arroyo Grande Sports Complex.
Travis Dugger and Tracy Daniels, Cristian mom’s, say they are proud of their son.
Rob Langrell, the Major Nationals’ coach, says the team has dedicated the season to Hailee Lamberth’s memory — not just by putting her names on their backs, but by the spirit in which they play.
When somebody makes an error or strikes out with ducks on the pond, Langrell said there’s no grumbling about it this season. Because when you think about it, grumbling is sort of bullying, too, or at least it can lead to it if it gets loud enough.
“We talked about Hailee; it went over well,” he said. “We talk about picking each other up, because next time it could be you” that drops the ball or strikes out with ducks on the pond.
Langrell calls what happened to Hailee Lamberth a shame and a tragedy and says he still gets emotional when he thinks about it. Which is often, because he has kids, too.
When I asked Cristian Dugger about Hailee, he said he didn’t know her well, only that “she seemed real nice.”
“She was always smiling,” he said with a smile that seemed sad.
But then one day, when she was alone, she stopped smiling.
“Nobody should wind up hurt because of bullying,” the Major Nationals catcher said, and nobody should wind up dead because of it, either. And so when Cristian Dugger came to his father with this idea he had, his father would tell other grown-ups he was proud of his son.
Cristian’s mom was the one who contacted Hailee’s dad to ask if it was OK for the Major Nationals to honor his daughter this way.
On Opening Day of the Green Valley Little League, I’m told kids were laughing and joking, and kids probably were saying “Hey batter, swing batter” provided kids still say that.
Kids were hitting home runs, stealing bases, dropping the ball, striking out with ducks on the pond.
But mostly, kids were smiling.
One of the grown-ups noticed Jason Lamberth, Hailee’s father, standing in the background. Hailee was gone. It must have been difficult to say thanks to the Little League players who were wearing his little girl’s name on their jerseys, and to the other grown-ups.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski