Gibson's Memorial Homer

Little Leaguer dedicates season in memory of his brother

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The highlight of Payson Little League opening day play Saturday was a pair of booming home runs and two innings of no-hit baseball turned by Cubs player Westin Gibson.

Just prior to the season opener, Gibson -- in Babe Ruth like fashion-- dedicated his play this year to his younger brother "Baby Slade" Gibson, who died Oct. 19, 2003 at 18 months of age.

The young player's heartfelt dedication and resulting all star performance tugged at the heartstrings of many of those in attendance, including his mother Becky.

"It was very emotional for us," she said. "He told us he was going to (hit the home runs), but we just didn't know he was going to do it so soon."

Over the fence home runs, as Gibson's second-round tripper was, are a rarity in major division Little League.

It was the only one hit during the six opening-day games. His first homer was an inside-the-park blast down the third baseline. His second easily cleared the center field fence.

"It flew into the library parking lot," Little League President Chuck Barton said.

For Westin Gibson, the over-the-fence blast was a tribute he won't soon forget.

"It was about the most awesome thing I've ever done," he said. "I wanted to do it for my brother because April 8 would have been his birthday. When I hit it out of the park, it felt good, because I knew my little brother was watching from up above."

As impressive as his circuit blasts were, it was his pitching that propelled his team to an 11-1 win over the Giants.

In the Rim Country Middle School sixth-grader's two innings on the hill, his fireball offerings proved impossible to hit.

With a 6-0 lead, Cubs coach Slade Gibson, the hurler's father, opted to pull his ace from the mound.

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"Baby Slade" Gibson

"It was the fair thing to do," he said. "No one on the Giants was going to be able to hit him," the first base umpire said.

No seniors

Saturday's games marked the beginning of the Little League season that will be played without a senior division (13-15-years).

Due to a small turnout of about 20-plus players, Barton canceled senior play last week.

"It was something we didn't want to do but we just didn't have enough (players) for a minimum of four teams," he said.

The major division this season will feature six teams and the minors will be the home of five squads. The AAA or "coach pitch" league also has five teams.

Teams in the majors division (10- to 12-years) will play a 20-game regular season schedule. Those in the minors (7- to 9-years ) will play a 15-game slate.

For the first time this season, only one game will be played each night at Rumsey I, rather than doubleheaders as in past.

According to Barton, league officials canceled the doubleheaders because some games were not wrapping up until late into evenings

"We wanted them home, rested and ready for school the next day," he said.

Because there will be no twin bills, the Rumsey concession standing will be open for Saturday games only.

In the AAA league, mostly for 6-year-olds, one game will be played weekday afternoons at Rumsey III.

Those games began yesterday.

At the conclusion of the regular season, Payson will host the Area 1 Major Division Little League All-Star tournament.

The double-elimination tournament will draw four teams from Flagstaff and one each from Winslow, Tuba City and Page. Games will be played at Rumsey I and the high school softball field.

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