One night under the lights is the climax of a sandlot-style baseball league that's based on simple principles--fun and an attempt to prove that you don't ever have to "grow up."
When we were little, we'd walk to the park, round up friends, grab anything that resembled a bat and a ball and play a child's game for hours. It was sandlot baseball and we'd play for hours until the sun set and the dew began to dampen the baseball.
This reminiscence of simpler times is brought back to life every year by a group of beyond-college ballplayers in the Quad-Cities.
Matt Veto created the league in 1998 out of frustration. Veto played Little League Baseball until he was 17 years old. In his later high school years he became puzzled by the fact that the teams he played on would rarely field a full team.
"I couldn't understand anyone not wanting to play baseball," Veto said.
Veto called all the friends in his phone book and usually 8 to 10 boys would meet at a sandlot to hit around or play a short game. Those calls became more frequent in 1999 and those friends began to call the gathering "Veto League Baseball."
The Veto League phone book has grown to over 230 entries in nine years.
"The league is open to anybody who loves the game of baseball, but wasn't very good at it," Veto said. "The league is meant for the kid that might have been afraid of the ball, but always wanted to play. We're not looking for the superstar ballplayer and we try to stray away from egos. This group of guys is out there to have fun. Not to be the best."
With league growth came innovation and organization. In 2004, Veto League Baseball played its first night game at Richmond Hill Sports Complex in Geneseo, Ill. The event has become an annual occurrence.
On Sunday, Sept. 10, the VLB will play its third night game with festivities to begin at 7 p.m. Family and friends are invited to attend the event which will feature a nine-inning sandlot-style baseball game. Concession will be available and prizes will be given away.
"In 2004, we had over 70 people come," Veto said. "In 2005, we raised over $300 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. We're hoping for another good crowd."
While this year's game will not be played for charity, grander plans lie in the future.
"We've talked about having a huge charity event in 2007," Veto said. "A lot of planning goes into these games and we have a few ideas, but we'll know more by the time January rolls around."
Veto thanked Geneseo Youth Baseball for the field arrangements and hopes the event will continue for years to come.
He hopes the league will continue forever.
"This is something that we can grow with," Veto said. "It's baseball at batting practice speed. It's fast paced, but it's not challenging. The idea is to have both the young and the old play in the same game. I hope I'm still playing when I'm 40."
This season the VLB played nearly 40 games, splitting time among multiple fields in the Quad-Cities. The Sept. 10 night game will conclude play for 2006, but for the VLB 2007 can't come soon enough.
"This is a fun and unique league," Veto said. "Every year I'm amazed by the number of new people that show up. I really believe this is something that can live on forever."
***EDITOR’S NOTE*** - The 2006 Night Game never took place. Matt Veto received a phone call mere days before the scheduled event that Richmond Hill field was under construction and could not be used. The game would be delayed multiple time and would not be played until July 2007.