BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The City of Daytona Beach is looking for players for its youth baseball league.
The city’s Cultural and Leisure Services department is bringing back the program after a three-year hiatus. The last youth baseball league was in 2014.
“We have a program and we are looking for the kids to come out and take a part of it,” said Terry “Baldy’’ Johnson, athletics specialist.
Currently, clinics to sharpen kids’ skills are being held at Bethune Point Monday through Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. for ages seven through 12.
There is also a T-Ball League for ages four to six, which holds clinics at Derbyshire Park on Monday and Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Blacks and baseball
So far, numbers have been low for baseball but city recreation and athletics officials are going the extra miles to get kids out to the sport.
“We’re doing all that we can. We have reached out to the schools, including elementary and middle schools,” said Joe Chirillo, athletics director.
There are also challenges attracting kids to the sport, especially African-American kids where sports like football and basketball reign supreme.
Across the nation at every level, from the youth to the pros, the numbers of Black Americans participating in baseball is on the decline.
The City of Daytona Beach’s Cultural and Leisure Services Department serves a majority of the Black community.
“We have seasonal sports. There are year-round AAU and travel programs in other cities. We have strong football and basketball programs while some cities don’t have any. Basketball is really big in our community,” Chirillo expressed.
“We have a lot of year-round football with 7-on-7, 8-on-8 and tackle throughout the year. Football is king in Florida. We also have soccer, which is a very popular and fast-growing sport. We do have the best fields in the county for baseball.’’
‘Starting back up’
Johnson added how the program is trying to get more kids interested in baseball.
“We haven’t been around in a long time with our baseball program like other cities. We’re just starting back up. We are trying to get kids back again.
“Interest varies every few generations. I think we advertised well. We reached out to schools. Right now, kids just aren’t biting. We have to find a way to reach them in this sport. Right now, the basketball and football programs are really strong and established.”
Baseball is a sport that has several benefits for youth.
Johnson noted, “There are benefits in baseball like in every other sport. You build character, teamwork, camaraderie, discipline, motivation and social skills. It’s also a good physical activity.”
The goal is to provide baseball for T-Ball (ages 4-6); Pitching Machine or Coach Pitch (ages 7-8); Minors (ages 9-10) and Majors (ages) 11-12. Two teams in each division also is the goal, but there will be interleague games.
Historically, fielding T-Ball teams have been easiest where there have been anywhere between four to eight teams.
There is a lot of work to be done to get the sport back going as well as having it sustain itself and be successful.
The city last had a youth baseball program that ran from 2008 through 2014. That program came after the sport was absent for 10 years. Last year, T-Ball returned for the first time since 20014.
“I don’t really know why we haven’t been able to sustain a program. It’s a difficult question. It’s a different generation. Back then, we had kids more interested. Today we really don’t. We’re trying to re-spark that interest,’’ Johnson added.
There is a $40 registration fee for residents and $50 for non-residents to participate.
There are also opportunities for parents who cannot afford to pay.
“We can scholarship some kids. We want kids to come back to baseball. We know that there are parents out there that need help,” said Chirillo.
The Daytona Tortugas of the Florida State League (Class A high affiliate) of the Cincinnati Reds donated uniforms and equipment. The Central Florida Police Athletic League (PAL) also donated money to the league.
“We are thankful for our donors and sponsors for their support to our youth and our program,” Chirillo added.