About 800 young athletes on 75 baseball, softball and T-ball teams dusted off their cleats this week and began practicing for Harker Heights youth baseball program opening day on April 27.
Managed by the Heights Parks and Recreation Department, the baseball program is made possible with the help of about 140 volunteer coaches, like Tanya Smith-Evans, leader of the Barracudas T-ball team. She has about a dozen kids aged 4-6 on her roster this season.
“It’s entertaining,” she said. “I think (T-ball) is mainly for kids who haven’t played the sport before and a lot of their parents are interested in getting them general team dynamics like how to listen to a coach, how to run the bases, and maybe catch a ball.”
Smith-Evans, a second-year coach, encouraged her own three young children to play baseball so they could make friends, learn sportsmanship and how to be part of a team. She believes the sport also teaches other important life lessons.
“Everyone wants to be a pitcher or on first base because they get the ball the most,” Smith-Evans said. “But they do learn that everyone takes turns and you can’t always be the one to get the ball or (to bat) … it really teaches them to share.”
The youth baseball league is one of the parks and recreation department’s most popular programs, said Samantha Hanie, athletic coordinator. So popular, in fact, 70 children were put on a waiting list to play this season.
“This area is growing and we always get new kids,” Hanie said. “It’s one of our most competitive sports. Our parents are really involved and I think it’s just because it’s America’s sport.”
Todd Gawryszewski, coach of the River Bandits in the freshmen division, appreciates the family time coaching allows him and his son Ryan, 12. He’s been coaching since Ryan was 6 and thinks baseball is a great sport for young people.
“It gives the kids something to do, and lets them play with their buddies and against their friends, bringing competition.”
Gawryszewski grew up playing baseball, too, and coached for a few years at Shoemaker High School.
Ryan, who prefers playing second base and outfield, enjoys the game on and off the field. He likes to watch Major League Baseball games and doesn’t hesitate to brag about the “almost homerun” he hit when he was 10.
“When I came up to the plate I hit it all the way in the outfield over the left-fielder’s head and I ended up making a triple,” he said. “I was astounded I hit it and I was so happy that it could have been a homerun.”
Gawryszewski said the city has a well-run program where the kids learn a lot about baseball and winning and losing.
“There’s kids with all different skill levels,” he said. “It’s not only the athletic part, but the camaraderie and learning new skills overall that gives the kids a better chance while playing the sport.”