His voice carried across the basin, inviting hundreds of Little Leaguers and their coaches onto the pristine infield.
Later, he tugged at his chest protector and uniform, and then debuted his “strike” call for a pack of kids behind the backstop.
Whether behind a microphone or home plate, O’Neill’s enthusiasm has become as much a part of the Opening Day ceremonies at Spreckels Park Little League as the bunting, parade and national anthem.
“I absolutely love the excitement. You’ve got kids putting on the Little League uniform for the very first time. T-ballers and Farm kids, they’re playing in the dirt and just having fun,” O’Neill said.
“We’ve been doing that same Opening Day ceremony now for nine years, and every time we do it they go crazy. We do a cheer, sing a little song and play some baseball.”
On Saturday, baseball arrived at leagues across Manteca with much fanfare and applause.
At Brock Elliott Elementary, where nipping wind created the only stir, the game took its cues from one of its tireless volunteers.
O’Neill has been associated with Little League baseball for 26 years, a term of service split between California and North Carolina leagues. He’s spent the last 14 growing the game for those that live within SPLL’s boundaries.
“I just want these kids to have a great Little League experience,” O’Neill said matter-of-factly.
Understand this about O’Neill: No one is more qualified.
When it comes to operations, there isn’t much he hasn’t done since the league’s inception in 1999.
He’s been president and vice president, and currently holds the position of umpire chief. “If I could make a living doing that that would be my job” quipped O’Neill, a man of relative importance away from the diamond. He is a regional manager for Arrow Fastener, with direct oversight on 11 states.
That’s not to say O’Neill is opposed to getting his hands dirty. He’s cut the grass, worked the snack bar and coached thousands on the fundamentals of the game.
“I’ve been the head bottle washer, too,” he said.
The one constant, O’Neill says, has been family. His four boys were raised in Spreckels Park Little League uniforms, and this season marks a new chapter in the family legacy.
Among the hundreds in uniform on Saturday were O’Neill’s grandchildren, Jake and Kiley O’Neill.
Kiley is a T-ball Cub, while Jake is the smallest player on the Farm A’s.
“There are times when I look around the room and think ‘What are you doing?’ I have four boys and that’s how I’ve been involved for so long. They’re all married now and on their way,” O’Neill said. “Now my grandson and granddaughter are in the league, and it’s rekindled my fire.”
No one’s burns brighter.
After all these years, O’Neill remains a ball of energy.
On Saturday, he bounced between fields – like a double shot of espresso – greeting players and parents alike with a toothy smile and quick wit. He worked the third-base line of Jake’s game, using each break as a teaching moment.
“I’ve got a Type-A personality,” O’Neill said. “The enthusiasm – that’s the way it’s going to be until the day I die.”