BY ANDREAS BUTLER
For the first time in about three years, kids are playing T-ball in Daytona Beach.
The City of Daytona Beach Leisure Services has started a T-ball program.
Opening Day took place on May 9 at Derbyshire Park & Sports Complex at 849 Derbyshire Road.
“The reception in the community has been tremendous. We put the word out on a Monday and in a week in a half we had our goal of the number of players and teams that we wanted. We even have 15 players on a waiting list,” said Percy Williamson, the city’s Leisure Services Director.
Teamed with Tortugas
To bring the program, the city teamed up with the Daytona Beach Police Department and the Daytona Tortugas.
“The Daytona Tortugas are so excited to have Little League Baseball back in the City of Daytona Beach. As the lone professional sports team in Volusia County and one that calls Daytona home, its very important that our local kids are provided opportunities growing up. Each and every day, we would like to make this community a better place to live. One smiling kid at a time,” commented Tortugas Team President Ryan Keur.
A good start
Daytona Beach police chief, Craig Capri echoed, “Baseball is a great sport to teach these kids life skills. We want to bring it back to the city and it’s a good place to start with T-ball at Derbyshire Park. The police and city staff are out there working with and interacting with the kids.
Commissioner Danette Henry really pushed for this. Percy Williamson and his staff have done a great job getting it going.”
Free for kids
With the financial help of the Tortugas, the city was able to provide the program free of charge to participants.
The Tortugas are a Minor League Baseball team that plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in downtown Daytona.
They are the high Class A-affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds Major League Baseball franchise.
“We decided to partner up. The Tortugas are our primary sponsors. They are assisting us with growing our youth baseball program. We intend on not just creating a little league program but grow it up from T-ball. We estimate it to take three to four years to do that,” said Williamson.
The T-ball league has a total of 80 players placed on eight teams consisting of 10 kids ages 4 to 6.
Games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Derbyshire Park. The kids will play a seven-game season, which ends on May 30.
The goal is to eventually bring back youth baseball, which has been absent from the city’s youth athletics program the past few years.
Williamson confirmed, “We do want to start grassroots with T-ball. We have a lot of kids 4 and 5 years old. It will take a few years for them to learn the fundamentals. We will likely go from T-ball and possibly add machine pitch and/or underhand coach pitch.”
T-ball to baseball
Sustaining the T-ball program from now on and the baseball program in the future will be challenging.
Williamson said, “Some communities play baseball year-round. We want to do a spring and fall league like other cities to keep the kids engaged.
“A lot of kids start playing T-ball and baseball young and migrate to other sports. You don’t see a lot of our kids en they get to high school, college and pros. We want to get kids who don’t play football or basketball.”
Youth baseball’s recent history hasn’t been kind in Daytona Beach.
The city operated a youth baseball league with T-ball ages 4 to 6 and baseball ages 7-12 from 2008 to 2014. That was after the sport was absent for over 10 years.
Competition from football and basketball is also a factor.
“In Daytona Beach, football is King. We also have talented basketball players. We have the best youth football and basketball. We are the only city with four individual youth football teams,” Williams explained.
“Looking at Mainland High’s football team, which is a state power, most of its players played youth football here. Many coaches are now having kids choose one sport to keep up their skills. When we were kids, we played every sport according to the season. We are also next to South Daytona, which has a strong youth baseball program.’’