Journal Inquirer

Aug. 1, 2017

BOSTON — As the Suffield Pink Pugs Little League team gathered before Boston Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis at Fenway Park on Monday, he quizzed them on what was most important in hitting the ball.

The 11 girls, all donning pink Red Sox hats, shouted several guesses until correctly answering keeping your eyes on the ball.

“Once they heard that, they were hitting line drives,” Davis said toward the end of the Pink Pugs’ three-hour-long batting camp.

Not only did the Pink Pugs get to refine their swings and work one-on-one with Davis and Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, but they also made history Monday. They were the first all-girls Little League team to attend the annual CVS Health All Kids Can Batting Camp at Fenway Park, the result of a 13-year partnership between CVS Health and the Boston Red Sox.

It was Suffield resident Jill Caron, whose daughter, Abby, 8, plays on the team, who came across an online application for the batting camp and decided to apply on behalf of the team. To everyone’s surprise, the team was accepted.

In the lead-up to batting camp, Abby and her teammates were extremely excited and even talking about being famous because they’d get the chance to practice on that legendary field, her mother said.

The Pink Pugs, managed by coach Dan Holmes and made up of players in Grades 2-4, were among nine teams to participate in batting camp this summer.

But on this particular Monday, they were the only team at camp and had the Red Sox coaches all to themselves. When Abby finished her turn in one of the batting cages, she recalled how the coaches told her to hit the ball with the thickest part of the bat.

Holmes reiterated that the Pink Pugs were ecstatic when they found out they’d been selected for batting camp. He said the goal of Suffield Little League is to encourage children of all abilities to learn from each other and grow as both players and individuals.

“We couldn’t think of a better way to fulfill this goal than with an opportunity for our team to receive tips from Boston Red Sox hitting coaches on the field at Fenway Park,” Holmes said.

In the batting cages behind the Red Sox dugout, Rodriguez tossed baseballs to Pink Pugs player Hannah Hadley, 10. At one point Rodriguez stopped her, telling her to step into the swing, which would give her more power.

The advice showed in her final swings, and when Hannah took her spot at home plate she sent a ground ball out toward second base.

In the dugout afterward, Hannah called the opportunity to stand at home plate at Fenway Park, “pretty amazing.”

After on-field batting practice with the Pink Pugs, Davis said, “I wish some of my hitters were as focused as they are.”

The Pink Pugs later took team and individual photos with Davis and Rodriguez in front of the Green Monster in left field and at home plate after sending baseballs into the infield.

They even got the chance to meet a Red Sox player when Brock Holt made a surprise visit to the dugout, where the Pink Pugs had gathered with their coach. Holt signed autographs and took a group photo with the team.

The Pink Pugs, along with their parents and coach, were also given a tour of different sections of the stadium, including the one with the oldest seats in Major League Baseball that were installed in 1934. It was there that the 11 players all took a seat and began singing, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

Their tour guide also took them to the stadium’s uppermost seats behind home plate, with its magnificent view of the field.

The guide then pointed to the one lone red seat in right field, surrounded by a sea of green ones, and relayed a bit of Red Sox folklore. During a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on June 9, 1946, legendary Red Sox player Ted Williams hit a home run 502 feet — the longest hit in Fenway Park history — and put a hole in a straw hat worn by a man sitting in right field in that now painted red seat.

The tour ended by the oldest gate in baseball, Gate A, where the Pink Pugs again sang baseball’s anthem, this time taking turns singing into the tour guide’s microphone, which broadcast their voices.

They were also treated to backpacks stocked with gifts, lunch in the Red Sox dugout, and pictures with Wally, the team mascot. And they were given complimentary tickets to Monday night’s Red Sox game against the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox won the game, 6-2, and Caron’s daughter Abby knows why.

Caron said Abby told her it was because the Pink Pugs were good luck.