It didn’t look like spring at the Mulberry Recreation Center fields on Saturday.

Thick, gray clouds hung low in the sky. Mud and water coated the grass where spectators stood. A cold wind whipped through hair and chapped hands, and parents bundled their littlest children up in blankets.

It sure sounded like spring, though.  

Tiny voices yelled out to each other and shrieked with laughter.

Little, sneakered feet squelched against the mud.

Coaches bellowed.

Mothers whispered: “Cheer for your brother. Say, ‘Go Sand Gnats.’”

Coins clinked in sweaty palms, as T-shirted, baseball-hatted kids lined up at the concession sand.

The below-50 air was full of the sound of ball against glove, cleat against clay, metal bat against concrete.

Lenoir’s athletic director, Kenny Story, invited his twins up to sing the national anthem, and the noise and chatter of the crowd melded into the sound of hands slapping over hearts and the tune of those old, star-spangled words.

Mayor Joe Gibbons threw out the opening ball, and that had its own sounds: A whoosh of leather and stitch against air, then waves of clapping from parents and coaches and kids.

Then, for the 61st year in a row, the teams assembled for their games. Kids as young as 4 and as old as 12 raised bats to shoulders and slipped hands into gloves.

Then came the last sound, the sound that means it’s all starting, the sound that means spring is here and winter is over and the kids are out on the ball field and ready to play:

Crack.

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