Young sluggers step up to plate to start season

Openers: Springtime is time for local ballclubs to pull out their bats, gloves and helmets so they can play ball.

Howard At Play

April 16, 2000|By Gail Dixon-Williams | Gail Dixon-Williams,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Take me out to the ball game" is the refrain going through the heads of many in county baseball and softball circles, as Opening Day -- a rite of spring -- occurs this month.

Some county programs began competing the first weekend of April; others have had practice sessions but don't start play until this weekend or next. But for all, from tee-ball players unsure what the game is about to parents and coaches who remember so well, the umpire's call to "play ball" is not only an order that gets things rolling; it's the stuff of memories.

The Columbia Youth Baseball Association (CYBA) started last weekend what organizer Dan Scafone hopes will become a tradition -- not only the usual parade of players but a morning of competition and fun, coach-led activities for about 1,300 people. They filled Howard High's stadium, as well as its baseball and softball fields last Saturday.

After the parade, 656 players received new, personal helmets and participated in batting practice and pitching and catching drills. Younger players, whom Scafone said benefit most from a positive season-opening experience, got to take part in some baseball-related games for prizes, among them a milk-bottle toss.

The array of opening-day thoughts was diverse.

Thomas Morataya, 8, of Columbia's Long Reach village, said he liked catching and batting but added: "I used to be good when I was 3 years old."

At 13, Paul Ivester, a Patapsco Middle School pupil, has been playing baseball six years. He expressed a different concern: "The beginning of the sport is usually fun. But I'm a little worried because I haven't practiced in a while. So I have to get used to swinging the bat again."

Donald Moore, commissioner for CYBA's 13- to 14-year-old baseball division and coach for a 13-year-old travel team, played softball and baseball as a child and still looks forward to Opening Day. Watching his son, Jordan, 13, play helps.

"It's always an exciting time for me," he said. "I live for Opening Day. It's good to see all the kids out participating and to see how all the other teams look."

For County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, Opening Day brings back fond memories of being home in Calvert County.

"Growing up, I was one of the best pitchers in the whole county," he said. "In fact, I was so good that one team wanted to purchase me from the team I was playing with. There was a certain excitement around it -- people coming out to the games. It was a self-esteem builder, to tell you the truth. It was a way for a young man to stay out of trouble and just do something that was somewhat constructive -- building team play and working together. I really enjoyed that."

Ramon Jordan uses Opening Day to track how softball has changed since he was young. He has headed CYBA's fast-pitch softball leagues, both recreation and travel levels, for four years and is also an assistant coach at Long Reach High.

"The major changes for me, being particular to softball, is that there was no girls softball when I was a kid," he said, noting that nine years ago, CYBA became the first county organization to offer fast-pitch softball for girls.

Opening Day for Western Howard County Baseball and Softball included 1,800 children participating in games.

Paul Parrish, who directs the program, played as a boy. His wife, Ginny, is an assistant tee-ball coach, and their four children play tee-ball or softball.

"Participating in sports is good," he said, "because although the children get competitive, they learn how to get along with other children and learn sportsmanship. That's a big plus. And regardless of how well or how bad they do, they still have fun."

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