NORFOLK — Pungo’s Herb Smith used to coach the Creeds Nationals, among a few rural youth teams that won championships this spring, and his son, Hank, 9, plays on the Nationals now for Coach Jason Gentry.
When Smith coached, he always wanted to try and get the team and families together for a game at Harbor Park, but it never quite worked out.
This year, he noticed that the Subway in the Red Barn in Pungo had a promotion involving tickets to the Norfolk Tides. Since Smith is a customer there, he asked the owner, Pradip Patel, whether he might donate some of those tickets to the kids and their families.
“How many tickets do you think you could give me?” Smith recalled asking.
Patel asked how many he wanted, and, without missing a beat, got the tickets.
“It was really nice for him to do this,” Smith said later.
Patel, who lives in Heritage Park, later said he has two sons in college who grew up playing sports here. And he called Smith a loyal customer.
But why give the tickets?
“Well, they’re local,” he said. “You should do something for the local community.”
Patel owns a number of businesses now with family, including Subways locations in Virginia and North Carolina.
Yet he’s often found at Red Barn.
“That all started from this store,” he said. “I enjoy working here.”
What started here relies upon customer, he noted. “I’m here because of them,” he said. “You should always give back.”
A number of players from the Nationals came with family, friends and members of other youth teams to Harbor Park in Norfolk. Coaches passed out the tickets, and everybody went inside. Some of the young athletes engaged in the time-honored tradition of trading up to a closer seat.
Some of the young people were right at the wall, cheering the team, enjoying ball park food, sometimes checking back in with nearby adults. A couple had foul balls tossed their way from the field.
Early in the game, Brady Saar, 9, said he had not been to the Tides before. A member of the undefeated Nationals, he added that he appreciated the tickets and chance to go to the game.
“It was good,” he said.
From one seat over, Jaden Williams, Saar’s 11-year-old cousin, asked, “You’ve never been to a Tides game before?”
Saar shook his head no.
“Now you can’t say you haven’t.”
Herb Smith sat with his son, Hank, 9. He hoped the experience would keep the young people interested in youth sports.
“Hopefully, they keep playing ball, keep playing sports and stay out of trouble,” he said. “We’ve got the best coaches and the best community in Creeds.”
“The kids had a wonderful time,” Gentry, coach of the champs, said later.
“I thought it was neat,” he said, speaking of the evening at the park. “Some of the kids don’t ever get to go or think to go. I think with Subway and Red Barn doing that, that was a great thing — especially for our community.”