For hours that stretched into the evening, Eliahana Cruz Torres would practice high-speed underhand throws with her grandfather in a makeshift bullpen he made from store-bought netting in their front yard.
It was her first season in Little League, and every night before her games, a nervous Eliahana, 10, a fourth grader, would come looking for reassurance from her family that her game would go well, aunt Laura Cabrales said.
“It was her first time this year to get into a sport, but within time she loved it,” Cabrales said Sunday.
“Every time she would go practice, she was always eager, because she was the type of kid that wanted to do her best,” she added. “She loved everything about the game, whether she was pitching, catching or in the outfield — it really didn’t matter to her.”
Eliahana got to pitch in one game, and she was just hours from taking the circle a second time when she, 18 other students and two teachers were killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
Six of those victims were current Uvalde Little League baseball or softball players, making last week’s shooting the darkest day in league history, officials said.
The grim discovery was made by matching names of victims to Little League’s database of players registered to play in and around Uvalde, President and CEO Stephen Keener said.
The six who donned uniforms this this year were softball players Torres, Makenna Lee Elrod, Tess Mata and Alexandria “Lexi“ Aniyah Rubio and baseball players Jose Flores Jr. and Xavier Lopez, according to national Little League records and tributes posted by Uvalde Little League.
Keener and board Chairman Hugh E. Tanner said they don’t believe there has ever been another time when so many of their young players were killed in one day.
“Hard to recall anything darker,” Keener said. “There really are no words to describe and express how we feel. It’s just horrific.”
Tanner, a Houston lawyer, said that he regularly takes note of tragedies that befall Little League alumni and that he couldn’t remember when multiple current players died in such a single, terrible act.
“Certainly over the years we’ve had alumni who lost their lives, for instance on 9/11 in one of the towers,” Tanner said, “but in terms of concentrating so many [in one place and time], I can’t imagine something like this has ever happened before.”
As profiles of the players emerged, Tanner said, he was moved by the number of families that issued pictures of their fallen loved ones in baseball or softball uniforms, such as Eliahana.
"It's touching just looking at the photographs [of victims] that have been posted by families to see some of the boys and girls in their Little League uniforms," Tanner said.
"I think of my own two children, a son and daughter who played Little League, and we have those pictures still [prominently displayed] in our house and they're 28 and 31."
The victims played in Uvalde Little League’s “minor league” division or the next classification up the chain, “major division,” best known for the nationally televised Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina.
There’s been Little League in Uvalde since 1959.
“They’ve been a strong part of our program for many, many years,” Keener said. “One of the kids was supposed to have played their last regular season game that evening.”
Officials with Uvalde Little League, including its president, past president and vice president, didn't immediately reply to requests for comment Sunday.