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Matt Martz / Special to The Californian

A sea of Bakersfield Southwest Baseball league players and coaches gathered at Aera Park Saturday morning for the league's opening ceremonies.

 Although the first day of spring is still two weeks away, perfect weather conditions brought out more than 5,000 people to Aera Park for Bakersfield Southwest Baseball’s annual opening day ceremony on Saturday.

More than 1,200 youngsters representing more than 138  teams ranging in age from 3-18 took part in the morning ceremony, as fans packed the stands and grassy areas at the park.

The event marked the 24th opening day for the organization, whose numbers are growing more than 30 percent a year.

“Opening day all started off just to have fun, but the event has grown into a fundraiser for us as well,” said fourth-year BSWB president Darren Billesbach.

“When you see all the kids come out onto the field with smiles, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

After the teams were introduced, Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard addressed the crowd.

“I remember opening day when I was a kid,” said Maggard. “It was a time when everyone was still in contention, somebody was going to hit the first home run, butterflies in your stomach, and all the best stuff about baseball.”

Also in attendance was Bakersfield native David Carr of the  2011 Super bowl champion New York Giants, who played BSWB and now has two sons in the league.

“I've been involved in this for close to 30 years and it’s an awesome deal,” said Carr, “I've been all over the country and have seen lots of Little League fields, and we should feel blessed to have a facility like this in our city.”

However, there is always room to improve the fields, which are at maximum capacity, and one of the main goals for this season is to find a sponsor to purchase lights that would accommodate night practices and games so the more than 600 youths on the waiting list would get a chance to play.

“We are a non-profit, and without our sponsors we would be another second- tiered park,” said VP of fundraising Brent Clayton. “The support we get makes BSWB ‘Best in Class’ in California ball parks.”